One of the biggest global problems in trying to reduce carbon emissions is the extremely large existing infrastructure built entirely around fossil fuels. Of course there are individual actions we can all take to reduce our emissions, but for at least the next 20 or 30 years, there will still be coal-powered power plants and gas guzzling automobiles. So the biggest hope for us in fighting global warming will be to remove those emissions before they ever reach the atmosphere – by designing systems to remove carbon from power plants and automobile exhaust. Here’s where the work of Ian Metcalfe and Alan Thursfield from the University of NewCastle comes in: the two have developed a system of ceramic tubes that could be retrofitted for existing power plants with the sole purpose of cutting back on greenhouse emissions.
The main component of this system is a series of tiny tubes made out an advanced ceramic material known as LSCF, which was originally developed for fuel cell technology. This material has a rather unique property that makes is suitable for this process: LSCF (which stands for lanthanum-strontium-cobalt-ferric oxides) is able to filter oxygen out of air. By controlling the combustion process with these tiny tubes, the fuel is able to be burned in pure oxygen, which has the effect of producing pure CO2 and steam.
But, you may ask, why are we creating pure CO2, don’t we want to get rid of CO2? Most power plant emissions contain a large number of chemicals, such as methane and nitrogen oxide, mixed in with the CO2 making the mixture more threatening and unsuitable for any other use. Pure CO2, on the other hand, can be piped back into a processing plant to be turned into something useful such as methanol.
So far the tests in the laboratory have been successful on a small scale, though it is unclear whether or not the tubes could survive the conditions inside a power station chamber. Further tests are scheduled to occur soon.