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Imagine powering your phone with carbon dioxide


Imagine powering your phone with carbon dioxide

Researchers have made a proof-of-concept device that absorbs the greenhouse gas to produce electricity.
April 25, 2024

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Finding ways to power the world while emitting minimal planet-warming carbon dioxide is a Holy Grail for researchers. Now, scientists in Australia have made a device that goes the other way: it consumes carbon dioxide to generate electricity.

The carbon-negative power generator, reported in the journal Nature Communications, is only a small proof-of-concept laboratory-scale device right now. But it could pave the way towards a new industrial-scale carbon capture method, its developers say.

As the world hurtles towards a future where climate change could cause unlivable conditions for millions, carbon capture will play a key role in decarbonizing the energy sector, alongside renewable energy development. But current carbon capture technologies, which rely on special chemicals to draw carbon dioxide out of smokestack emissions and the air, remain costly and energy-intensive.

Professor of chemical engineering Xiwang Zhang and colleagues at the University of Queensland developed a device that produce electricity from the flow of charges. They start with microscopic flakes of an atoms-thick material called boron nitride, and coat them with a polymer called polyethyleneimine.


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The team embedded these flakes in a hydrogel that is made of 90 percent water. Then they cut the gel into 4-centimetre discs tested it in a sealed box pumped full of carbon dioxide. The coated flakes soak carbon dioxide, and produce positively and negatively charged particles. The positive ions are big and stay confined in the gel, while the much small negative ions move through the hydrogel channels, producing electricity.

“At present we can harvest around one per cent of the total energy carried intrinsically by carbon dioxide but like other technologies, we will now work on improving efficiency and reducing cost,” said Zhuyuan Wang, a postdoctoral researcher and lead author of the paper in a press release.

The researchers say there could be two uses for the device with scale up. It could be used as a portable electricity generator to power small electronics. A much larger-scale application would be to integrate the technology at an industrial carbon capture plant to produce electricity.

Source: Zhuyuan Wang et al. Electricity generation from carbon dioxide adsorption by spatially nanoconfined ion separation. Nature Communications, 2024.

Image:©Anthropocene Magazine


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