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‘Wonder material’ can extract value from captured carbon 

Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science have discovered how to scale up the production of a highly efficient “wonder material,” MOF-525, for large-scale applications. 

This material, part of the metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) class, has unique properties that allow it to capture carbon dioxide and convert it into valuable chemicals.

How the wonder material works

The breakthrough was achieved by Gaurav Giri’s lab group, which developed a method called solution shearing to fabricate large membranes of MOF-525. This technique involves mixing MOF components in a solution and spreading it across a substrate with a shearing blade. 

As the solution evaporates, the MOF forms a thin film on the substrate, creating an all-in-one membrane for carbon capture and conversion.

Membranes for carbon capture 

“If you can make these MOFs cover large areas, then new applications become possible, like making a membrane for carbon capture and electrocatalytic conversion all in one system,” Giri explained. Electrocatalytic conversion links renewable energy sources to chemical synthesis, bypassing fossil fuel combustion.

MOFs have ultra-porous, crystalline structures with nanoscale cavities, creating vast internal surface areas that trap various chemical compounds. The team’s method allows for scaling up the production of MOF-525 membranes, enhancing surface area and reaction efficiency.

“With this process, you can increase the shearing blade width to whatever size you need,” said lead author Prince Verma, a PhD graduate from Giri’s lab.

Carbon capture and conversion 

The researchers targeted carbon dioxide (CO2) conversion to demonstrate their approach. Traditional carbon capture methods reduce industrial emissions but have minimal financial return. 

In contrast, MOF-525, with minimal energy input, can convert CO2 into carbon monoxide (CO), a valuable chemical for manufacturing fuels, pharmaceuticals, and other products.

This innovative approach offers a promising solution to carbon capture and conversion, addressing both climate change and energy needs.

More about carbon capture 

Carbon capture is a technology aimed at reducing the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the atmosphere from industrial and energy-related sources. 

The process involves capturing CO2 emissions at their source, such as power plants or factories, and then transporting and storing them underground in geological formations. 

This method prevents the captured CO2 from contributing to global warming and climate change. 

Carbon capture techniques

There are various techniques for carbon capture, including pre-combustion capture, post-combustion capture, and oxy-fuel combustion. 

Each method involves different ways of separating CO2 from other gases produced during industrial processes. 

The captured CO2 can also be used in other applications, such as enhanced oil recovery, where it is injected into oil fields to increase the extraction of oil. 

Ongoing challenges 

Despite its potential, carbon capture technology faces challenges related to cost, efficiency, and the need for extensive infrastructure to transport and store CO2 safely. 

It is seen as a crucial part of the strategy to mitigate climate change, especially in industries where reducing emissions is particularly difficult.

Why is carbon capture so important?

Carbon capture is crucial because it addresses the pressing issue of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, which contribute significantly to climate change. 

Reducing global warming 

By capturing and storing carbon emissions from industrial processes and power generation, we can mitigate the greenhouse effect and reduce global warming. 

This technology not only helps in meeting international climate goals but also supports the transition to a low-carbon economy. 

Negative emissions

Negative emissions are considered essential for limiting global warming to 1.5°C or 2°C, as outlined in the Paris Agreement.

Carbon capture can enhance the viability of renewable energy sources by providing a bridge during the transition period and can be used in combination with bioenergy to achieve negative emissions.

There are also other methods that may be used in efforts to achieve negative emissions, including afforestation and reforestation, ocean fertilization to boost the ocean’s ability to absorb CO2, and enhancing the capacity of soils to capture and store carbon through agricultural practices.

The study is published in the journal Applied Materials and Interfaces.


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