Imagine being able to turn pollution into something useful while returning the planet to pre-industrial carbon levels in just ten years. Scientists believe that it’s possible: a new process developed by team at George Washington University could manufacture the fibers using carbon dioxide extracted from Earth’s atmosphere – talk about a win/win for everyone. The double-whammy discovery could help tackle climate change, while revolutionizing many industries. According to Gizmag, carbon nanofibers could one day be used for everything from building better bulletproof vests to fixing damaged hearts, not to mention making a big dent in climate change.
The process takes carbon dioxide and immerses it in molten carbonates heated to a temperature of 1,380 degrees F. The system then brings in air from the atmosphere along with a direct electrical current via nickel and steel electrodes. The result? Carbon dioxide dissolves and nanofibers start collecting on the steel electrode.
“Such nanofibers are used to make strong carbon composites, such as those used in the Boeing Dreamliner, as well as high-end sports equipment, wind turbine blades and a host of other products” notes lead researcher, Stuart Licht.
A trade-off in many developing renewable technologies lies in the fact that energy inputs can outweigh the benefits. But with this method, the energy used to heat the bath up to temperature supposedly used just one volt of electricity – produced by solar cells and a thermal energy collector.
“Carbon nanofiber growth can occur at less than one volt at 750 degrees C (1380 degrees F), which for example is much less than the three to five volts used in the 1,000 degree C industrial formation of aluminum,” Licht told the American Chemical Society.
The upshot of the process is, according to Licht, if he was able to scale his project to a size that would cover less than 10 percent of the Sahara Desert, it could draw enough CO2 out of the atmosphere to bring concentrations down to pre-industrial levels within just 10 years. And the team is working to do just that.
“We’re scaling up quickly,” Licht says. “And soon should be in the range of making tens of grams (a gram is 0.04 ounces) of nanofibers an hour.”