A sponge, announced by the American Chemical Society, could absorb vast amounts of carbon dioxide gas from factories and vehicles. This could, certainly, have the short-term benefit of reducing the concentration of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Development and use of the sponge-like plastic could also assist in a global transition to renewable energy, researchers determined.
The plastic used to create the new sponges is related to the same material employed in fast-food containers.
Industrial plants, factories and power plants could line smokestacks with the material, reducing their output of atmospheric pollutants. The plastic is manufactured from large percentages of carbon, and the material has the look of brown sand.
"The key point is that this polymer is stable, it's cheap, and it adsorbs CO2 extremely well. It's geared toward function in a real-world environment. In a future landscape where fuel-cell technology is used, this adsorbent could work toward zero-emission technology," Andrew Cooper, one of the researchers in the development of the new material, said.
Integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) is a new technology that is able to convert fossil fuels into hydrogen gas. This highly-flammable element is able to be packaged into fuel cells, and used to power automobiles and public transportation. It is hoped that such systems could be used to jump-start a hydrogen economy, through the creation of clean-burning hydrogen cars that can fuel up with gasoline from existing stations and pumps. However, carbon dioxide is still produced by the IGCC system, which needs to be separated and stored, apart from the hydrogen gas needed to run the vehicle.
The new carbon dioxide sponge absorbs the greenhouse gas, while encased under high pressure. Similar to a traditional sponge, the material expands while absorbing CO2 from the system in which it is used.
Like many polymers, the substance can withstand rough treatment, including exposure to acids. This durability and resistance to chemicals can make the material exceptionally useful in high-temperature conditions, like that which exists in smokestacks and for other industrial uses.
"Compared to many other adsorbents, they're cheap. And in principle, they're highly reusable and have long lifetimes because they're very robust," Cooper told the press.
Developers of the new material believe it will be easy to manufacture new scrubbers that can be placed into existing smokestacks. Coupling the new plastic filters with existing technologies could help harness the advantages of each model, creating a more effective system than either filter alone.
President Obama has set a goal of reducing American output of carbon dioxide 30 percent by 2030.