Article image

New "moisture-swing" carbon capture tech sucks CO2 straight from the air

As the world works ardently towards reducing the carbon footprints, Northwestern University introduces a breakthrough in the field of carbon capture from the atmosphere. Their research exhibits an innovative method known as “moisture-swing” that depends on the relationship between water and carbon dioxide in various systems.

Traditional carbon capture vs DAC

While traditional carbon capture techniques intercept CO2 straight from carbon-intensive processes like factories and plants, Direct Air Capture (DAC) endeavors to extract carbon from the air itself. This becomes ever more relevant as the world continues to shift away from fossil fuel dependence, reducing the need for point-of-source carbon capture.

The “Moisture-Swing” technique

The recently unveiled study centers around the “moisture-swing” technique. Inspired by the relationship between water and carbon dioxide, this technique captures CO2 at low humidities and releases it at higher ones.

But what truly sets this research apart is its ingenious use of kinetic methodologies and a variety of ions. This makes it possible to extract carbon from practically any location.

The study’s senior author, Vinayak P. Dravid, explains that they’re broadening the options for carbon capture ions and diving deep into the intricacies of fluid-surface interactions.

“We are not only expanding and optimizing the choice of ions for carbon capture, but also helping unravel the fundamental underpinnings of complex fluid-surface interactions,” said Northwestern’s Vinayak P. Dravid, a senior author on the study.

“This work advances our collective understanding of DAC, and our data and analyses provide a strong impetus to the community, for theorists and experimentalists alike, to further improve carbon capture under practical conditions.”

The idea and its impetus

Benjamin Shindel, one of the paper’s co-authors, underscores the appeal of the moisture-swing technique, notably its minimal energy cost. Theoretically, by leveraging environments with natural humid and dry air reservoirs, one could achieve humidity without incurring any energy costs.

“We liked moisture-swing carbon capture because it doesn’t have a defined energy cost,” Shindel said. “Even though there’s some amount of energy required to humidify a volume of air, ideally you could get humidity ‘for free,’ energetically, by relying on an environment that has natural dry and wet reservoirs of air close together.”

Furthermore, as John Hegarty, another co-author, highlights, the team has significantly expanded the number of usable ions for the process and identified high-performing systems.

“Not only have we doubled the number of ions that exhibit the desired humidity-dependent carbon capture, we have also discovered the highest-performing systems yet,” John Hegarty said. “Traditional carbon capture holds onto CO2 tightly, which means it takes significant energy to release it and reuse it.”

This stands in contrast to traditional carbon capture methods, which can be energy-intensive and not universally applicable. For industries like agriculture, concrete, and steel manufacturing, conventional methods fall short due to the vastness of their operational areas.

The role of metal-oxide frameworks (MOF)

Omar Farha, an experienced chemistry professor, has previously researched the potential of metal-oxide framework (MOF) structures for varied applications, inclusive of CO2 capture. He emphasized the multifaceted nature of DAC and the importance of an interdisciplinary approach.

The researchers broadened their exploration from traditionally used carbonate and phosphate ions to a wider range of ions. Their findings indicated that ions with higher valency, particularly phosphates, proved most effective.

Their experimentation also led to the discovery of other effective ions like silicate and borate. Through future experiments and computational modeling, the team aims to unearth reasons behind the effectiveness of particular ions.

Toward a greener future

Presently, several companies are venturing into the commercialization of direct air carbon capture, leveraging carbon credits to motivate businesses to counterbalance their emissions. Unlike some other strategies that capture carbon indirectly, the moisture-swing technique clearly extracts CO2 straight from the atmosphere. This captured carbon can then be concentrated, stored, or repurposed.

Looking ahead, Dravid’s team envisions merging their CO2 capturing materials with their earlier porous sponge platform, designed to eliminate environmental pollutants like oil, phosphates, and microplastics. This innovative convergence has the potential to reshape the landscape of environmental conservation and restoration.

The full study was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

More about carbon capture

As discussed above, carbon capture is an evolving technology. This tech actively fights climate change by trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions at their source, preventing them from entering the atmosphere. Experts view this method as a vital tool in the world’s arsenal to curb global warming.

Industries, notably power plants and factories, are the primary culprits for high CO2 emissions. Carbon capture targets these industries by collecting the emitted CO2 before it disperses into the air.

Typical forms of carbon capture

Once captured, experts compress the carbon dioxide into a liquid form. This liquid CO2 then finds use in several ways:

Storage Underground: Companies inject the liquid CO2 deep into rock formations, where it remains securely stored for thousands of years.

Enhanced Oil Recovery: Some industries pump the CO2 into declining oil fields. This process pushes remaining oil to the surface, improving oil extraction rates.

Industrial Use: Liquid CO2 can also serve various industrial applications, including the production of chemicals, fuels, and even carbonated beverages.

Direct Air Capture (DAC)

However, the application of carbon capture isn’t limited to industrial sites. The development of Direct Air Capture (DAC) technology allows scientists to capture CO2 directly from the atmosphere, offering potential solutions even for non-industrial CO2 sources.

In summary, carbon capture plays an active and essential role in the global initiative to combat climate change. By advancing and investing in this technology, we take a bold step toward a cleaner, more sustainable future.

The full study was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Like what you read? Subscribe to our newsletter for engaging articles, exclusive content, and the latest updates.

Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day