Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have developed a new biologically inspired membrane that can capture carbon dioxide from power plant smoke. Sandia fellow and University of New Mexico regents’ professor Jeff Brinker said, “Our inexpensive method follows nature’s lead in our use of a water-based membrane only 18 nanometers thick that incorporates natural enzymes to capture 90 percent of carbon dioxide released. This is almost 70 percent better than current commercial methods, and it’s done at a fraction of the cost.”

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Brinker said that, in the past, it has been prohibitively expensive to remove CO2 from coal smoke with available polymer membranes. However, his team’s membrane boasts a “relatively low cost of $40 per ton.”

The researchers call the membrane a ‘memzyme’ because it operates like a filter but is near-saturated with carbonic anhydrase, an enzyme “developed by living cells over millions of years to help rid themselves of carbon dioxide efficiently and rapidly.” University of New Mexico professor Ying-Bing Jiang came up with the concept of employing watery membranes, inspired by processes in the human body that separate out CO2. Brinker said the arrangement of the membrane inside the flue of a generating station would be similar to a catalytic converter in a car.

Related: 18-year-old invents cheaper CO2 capture tech to fight climate change

The work is patented and energy companies have shown interest. In addition, the membranes have worked efficiently for months in laboratory settings. Nature Communications published the work online earlier this year; researchers from other institutions in the United States contributed.

+ Sandia National Laboratories

+ Nature Communications

Images via Randy Montoya and courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories