Canadian scientist creates atmosphere-saving CO2 scrubbing machine

An ever-present point of concern for the planet’s future welfare, worries over damaging CO2 emissions could soon be a thing of the past thanks to a University of Calgary climate change scientist who’s developed a machine capable of removing CO2 from the air.

More pointedly, David Keith and a team of researchers working out of the University of Calgary have been diligently looking for a way to capture harmful greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) directly from the air by utilising “near-commercial” technology.

The team now believes it is close to achieving that goal with the development of a relatively simple machine that can capture, or “scrub” the trace amount of CO2 present in the air at any place on the planet.

“The climate problem is too big to solve easily with the tools we have,” explained Keith, director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy’s (ISEEE) Energy and Environmental Systems Group and a professor of chemical and petroleum engineering.

“While it’s important to get started doing things we know how to do, like wind power nuclear power and ‘regular’ carbon capture and storage, it’s also vital to start thinking about radical new ideas and approaches to solving this problem.”

According to Keith, the team is working hard to turn its scrub machine theory into an engineering reality in order to help cut down CO2 emissions produced from transportation-based diffuse sources such as vehicles and airplanes.

The proposed air capture system differs from existing carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, which is already a contributing factor in the strategy of federal governments as they strive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

For example, while CCS involves installing equipment at, say, a coal-fired power plant to capture CO2 produced during the coal-burning process before then piping the emissions for permanent underground storage in a geological reservoir, air capture machines will be able to literally remove the CO2 present in ambient air everywhere.

In applying the technology, Keith offers that: “A company could, in principle, contract with an oilsands plant near Fort McMurray to remove CO2 from the air and could build its air capture plant wherever it’s cheapest -- China, for example -- and the same amount of CO2 would be removed.”

In demonstrating the technology in practice, Keith and his team used a custom-built tower to capture CO2 directly from the air while requiring less than 100 kilowatt-hours of electricity per tonne of carbon dioxide. The tower unit was able to capture the equivalent of approximately 20 tonnes per year of CO2 on a single square metre of scrubbing material -- which amounts to the average level of emissions produced by one person each year in North America.

While still in its early stages, the atmosphere-scrubbing technology has already been touted by environmentalists as an energy-efficient and cost-effective way to complement other approaches designed to help reduce transportation emissions, such as biofuels and electric engines.

It is the team’s future goal to see the technology further developed to the point where it can be used through commercial-scale facilities solely focused on removing CO2 emissions from the air.

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