The Berkeley Lab chemist leads a diverse team of scientists whose goal is to quickly discover materials that can efficiently strip carbon dioxide from a power plant’s exhaust, before it leaves the smokestack and contributes to climate change.
They’re betting on a recently discovered class of materials called metal-organic frameworks that boast a record-shattering internal surface area. A sugar cube-sized piece, if unfolded and flattened, would more than blanket a football field. The crystalline material can also be tweaked to absorb specific molecules.
The idea is to engineer this incredibly porous compound into a voracious sponge that gobbles up carbon dioxide.
And they’re going for speed. The scientists hope to discover this dream material in a breakneck three years, maybe sooner. To do this, they’ll create an automated system that simultaneously synthesizes hundreds of metal-organic frameworks, then screens the most promising candidates for further refinement.
“Our discovery process will be up to 100 times faster than current techniques,” says Long. “We need to quickly find next-generation materials that capture and release carbon without requiring a lot of energy.”
Carbon capture is the first step in carbon capture and storage, a climate change mitigation strategy that involves pumping compressed carbon dioxide captured from large stationary sources into underground rock formations that can store it for geological time scales. Many scientists, including the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, believe that the technology is key to curbing the amount of carbon dioxide that enters the atmosphere. Fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas will likely remain cheap and plentiful energy sources for decades to come — even with the continued development of renewable energy sources.
Carbon capture and storage is being tested on a large scale in only a few places worldwide. One of the biggest obstacles to industrial-scale implementation is its parasitic energy cost. Today’s carbon capture materials, such as liquid amine scrubbers, sap a whopping 30 percent of the power generated by a power plant.
To overcome this, scientists are seeking alternatives that can be used again and again with minimal energy costs. It’s a slow, finicky process. Promising materials such as metal-organic frameworks come in millions of variations, only a handful of which are conducive to capturing carbon. Finding just the right material may take years.
The future of super-fast carbon capture materials discovery will be ruled by robots, such as this high-throughput metal-organic framework synthesis instrument in Long's lab.
That could change. In early May, Long’s team began negotiating a three-year, $3.6 million grant from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) to supercharge the search.
“We want to run the discovery process very rapidly and find materials that only consume 10 percent of a power plant’s energy,” says Long, who’s working with fellow Berkeley Lab scientists Maciej Haranczyk, Eric Masanet, Jeffrey Reimer, and Berend Smit on the project. Together, they’ll create a state-of-the-art production line.
A robot will automatically synthesize hundreds of metal-organic frameworks and X-ray diffraction will offer a first-pass evaluation in the search for pure new materials. Magnetic resonance spectroscopy will then ferret out the materials with the pore size distribution best suited for carbon capture.
Next comes the big test: can it capture carbon dioxide from a flue gas? High-throughout gas sorption analysis conducted using new instrumentation built by Wildcat Discovery Technologies of San Diego, California will provide the answer.
Computer algorithms will constantly churn through the resulting data and help refine the next round of synthesis. Promising materials will also be assessed to determine if any ingredients are too expensive for large-scale commercialization.
“We don’t want to discover a great material and find it’s so expensive that no one will use it,” says Long.
As a final test, the Electric Power Research Institute will predict the utility of the best new materials in an industrial-scale carbon capture process.
“We need to find the optimum range of metal-organic frameworks for each power plant,” says Long. “Ultimately, this research is intended to lead to materials worthy of large-scale testing and commercialization.”
Dan Krotz | EurekAlert!
A materials scientist’s dream come true
21.08.2018 | Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg
Novel sensors could enable smarter textiles
17.08.2018 | University of Delaware
There are currently great hopes for solid-state batteries. They contain no liquid parts that could leak or catch fire. For this reason, they do not require cooling and are considered to be much safer, more reliable, and longer lasting than traditional lithium-ion batteries. Jülich scientists have now introduced a new concept that allows currents up to ten times greater during charging and discharging than previously described in the literature. The improvement was achieved by a “clever” choice of materials with a focus on consistently good compatibility. All components were made from phosphate compounds, which are well matched both chemically and mechanically.
The low current is considered one of the biggest hurdles in the development of solid-state batteries. It is the reason why the batteries take a relatively long...
New design tool automatically creates nanostructure 3D-print templates for user-given colors
Scientists present work at prestigious SIGGRAPH conference
Most of the objects we see are colored by pigments, but using pigments has disadvantages: such colors can fade, industrial pigments are often toxic, and...
Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles present new research on a curious cosmic phenomenon known as "whistlers" -- very low frequency packets...
Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.
When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...
Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.
Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....
17.08.2018 | Event News
08.08.2018 | Event News
27.07.2018 | Event News
21.08.2018 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
21.08.2018 | Life Sciences
21.08.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering