Amid serious threats posed by a warming planet, researchers have come up with a method that can potentially help fight against climate change, which is primarily driven by the emission of greenhouse gases.

The release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is particularly blamed for man-made climate change. Greenhouse gas is produced by human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels for energy and transportation.

Carbon capture, which involves trapping carbon dioxide before it is released into the atmosphere, may curb the amount of the heat-trapping gas that goes into the atmosphere and triggers the further warming of the planet. Unfortunately, it is hampered by corrosion, inefficiency and toxicity problems.

The most common method of carbon capture used today in coal-burning and natural gas plants is amine scrubbing. The method involves getting the post combustion flue gas passing through liquid vats of amino compounds (amines) where the carbon dioxide is absorbed.

Although the method is not yet ready to be used extensively because it is very corrosive and needs capital intensive containment, a workaround could pave the way for the increased use of carbon capture technology.

Emmanuel Giannelis from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Cornell University, together with colleagues, has come up with low-toxicity but highly effective "sponges" that can trap carbon.

The researchers created a dry white powder that can capture heat-trapping carbon dioxide regardless of the presence of moisture by dipping a silica scaffold, the sorbent support, into liquid amine that soaks into the support like a sponge then hardens partially.

Giannelis said that carbon capture uses solid amine sorbents, but the support is often only physically impregnated with the amines so some are lost over time, reducing effectiveness and increasing cost. They instead grew the amine into the surface of the sorbent, causing the anime to chemically bond to the sorbent. This results in only a few of the amine being lost over time.

"The sorbent with high amount of covalently tethered amines shows fast adsorption rate, high amine efficiency and sorbent capacity well exceeding the highest value reported to date for low-temperature carbon dioxide sorbents under simulated flue gas conditions," the researchers reported in their study profiled in the journal Nature Communications on Dec. 12.

Giannelis and colleagues said that the efficiency of the method could lead to the development of improved carbon capture technologies.

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