An MIT team is working on a better way to scrub carbon dioxide, a harmful greenhouse gas, from the emissions of power plants that burn fossil fuels. Existing steam-based carbon capture and storage methods have not been widely adopted because they require so much energy and are not suited to all types of plants, but this team believes its refined technology could make all the difference.
The MIT project—led by T. Alan Hatton, MIT’s Ralph Landau Professor and director of the David H. Koch School of Chemical Engineering Practice, along with PhD candidate Aly Eltayeb—seeks to decrease the energy needed for the process via an electrochemical device. Early estimates based on a small-scale commercial prototype indicate the new system could cut energy requirements by as much as 25%.
“Carbon capture and storage is one of those things that doesn’t sound sexy, but it really solves the problem,” Eltayeb recently told the Boston Globe. “Especially if you can do something with that CO2 and stop treating it as a waste—and treat it as a valuable product.”
It turns out this “value” is a key aspect of the plan. It’s not enough to make the scrubbing process more energy efficient and therefore cheaper; finding a market for the captured CO2 is what will incentivize plant owners to adopt such a system, MIT Energy Initiative senior research engineer Howard Herzog told the Globe.
In this case, though fossil fuels may have triggered the original problem, they can also be part of the economic solution. Drillers are willing to pay for pure carbon dioxide; the compressed gas can be pumped into wells to push out more oil.