Could Sponge-Like Properties Be The Key To A Greener Future?

Environment, Science 2014-08-18

Global warming is a vast and complex issue that needs to be tackled. The climate is changing across our planet, largely due to human impacts. Advances in science and technology are the key to combatting this climate change. The UK has environmental targets to reduce greenhouse gases by 80 % by 2050. The main greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide (CO2), which is why the UK has legally binding carbon budgets.


The majority of carbon emissions are from fossil fuel-based power plants. Therefore a promising solution is carbon capture in the power plant’s chimneys. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a technique which removes CO2 from gas and coal power plants and transports it to be stored underground. It has been implemented in four of the world’s power plants. CCS is featured heavily in the governments ‘Carbon Plan’, suggesting that all coal and gas-fired power stations should be fitted with CCS technology. The US government has invested $3.4 billion in CCS technology. Therefore it is important to make the most efficient and economically viable systems for a sustainable future.




The International Energy Agency (IEA) states that CCS could reduce global CO2emissions by 19%, and that fighting climate change could cost 70% more without CCS. However, compressing the CO2 for transport and storage is expensive and energy intensive. CO2 is an important feedstock to make commercially viable products such as bio-oils, fertilizers and fuels. Therefore this idea could be implemented in carbon capture and utilization (CCU).


There are many challenges with carbon capture, such as separating the CO2 from a mixture of gases including oxygen and nitrogen. The material used must also have a tolerance to water vapour and acidic conditions. Excellent CO2 absorbers such as zeolites and metal organic frameworks are very sensitive to water and acid, therefore they are not ideal for use in power plants. However, scientists have discovered a new material, which acts differently to the existing rigid materials, as it swells to absorb CO2, in the same way a sponge absorbs water. It is a hyper-cross-linked polymer made from benzene molecules, which are knitted together to form a porous network. This means that it has a much higher selectivity for CO2 molecules, it is also robust, especially to water but it can even withstand concentrated acid. The CO2 can be removed by pressure changes and therefore can be controlled and easily reused. This technology is still in the early stages of development, but it is an exciting step forward as an economically viable option for carbon capture in the future.


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