Scientists Capture CO2 and Transform it into Carbon Nanofibers Used for Industry

First Posted: Aug 20, 2015 08:58 AM EDT

Scientists may have discovered a way to change carbon dioxide (CO2) into a valuable commodity. They've figured out a way to convert cO2 directly into carbon nanofibers for industrial and consumer products.

"We have found a way to use atmospheric CO2 to produce high-yield carbon nanofibers," said Stuart Licht, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Such nanofibers are used to make strong carbon composites, such as those used in the Boeing Dreamliner, as well as in high-end sports equipment, wind turbine blades and a host of other products."

The new method to capture this carbon is called "diamonds from the sky." Because of its efficiency, the low-energy process can be run using only a few volts of electricity, sunlight and a whole lot of carbon dioxide. At its root, the system uses electrolytic syntheses to make the nanofibers. CO2 is broken down in a high-temperature electrolytic bath of molten carbonates. Atmospheric air is then added to an electrolytic cell. The CO2 then dissolves and carbon nanofibers build up in the steel electrode, where they can be removed.

To power the synthesis, heat and electricity are produced through a hybrid concentrating solar-energy system. The electrical energy costs are around just $1,000 per ton of carbon nanofiber product, which means the cost of running the system is hundreds of times less than the value of product output.

"We calculate that with a physical area less than 10 percent the size of the Sahara Desert, our process could remove enough CO2 to decrease atmospheric levels to those of the pre-industrial revolution within 10 years," said Licht.

Currently, the system is experimental. Yet it represents a possible way to reduce atmospheric CO2 and turn it into something we can use.

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