Scientists imagine how to decarbonize heavy industries

Decarbonization poses major challenges to heavy, energy-intensive industries such as cement and steel production, which each contribute around 7% of total global CO2 emissions. And as these two sectors will continue to grow in the years and decades to come, it is imperative to reduce their carbon footprint.

Encouragingly, in a bid to help heavy industries decarbonize, a team of Australian researchers has just found an efficient new way to capture carbon dioxide before it’s released and turn it into solid carbon.

The new technology captures CO2 as it is produced and locks it in a solid state to prevent it from escaping into the atmosphere as a gas.

“Our new method harnesses the power of liquid metals, but the design has been modified for smoother integration into standard industrial processes,” says Torben Daeneke, associate professor at RMIT University in Melbourne.

“Transforming the CO2 into a solid prevents potential leakage issues and locks it down safely and indefinitely,” he says. “And because our process does not use very high temperatures, it would be possible to power the reaction with renewable energy.”

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The process is simple enough to scale up to industrial scale.

“The new technology is radically more efficient and can break down CO2 into carbon in an instant. We hope this can be an important new tool in the decarbonization drive, to help industries and governments meet their climate commitments and move us dramatically closer to net zero,” Daeneke said.

To develop their new technology, the researchers relied on already widely used thermal chemistry methods. During its process, liquid metal is heated to 100C-120C, then carbon dioxide is injected with gas bubbles rising in the liquid metal in the same way bubbles rise in a carbonated drink.

As the bubbles move through the liquid metal, the gas molecule splits to form flakes of solid carbon in a reaction that takes a fraction of a second, making the process very efficient.

“It is the extraordinary speed of the chemical reaction that we have achieved that makes our technology commercially viable where so many alternative approaches have struggled,” says Ken Chiang, a member of the research team.

The team is also working on new solutions to use the solid carbon from their process in building materials and other useful ways.

“Ideally, the carbon we produce could become a value-added product, contributing to the circular economy and allowing CCS technology to pay for itself over time,” says Daeneke.

By Daniel T. Cross. Articles in English

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