Climate Rewind: Scientists Turn Emissions Back Into Coal

Sunlight reflects off of a chunk of coal
May 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

(CN) – Australian researchers have developed a new technique to convert carbon dioxide gas into solid coal, offering a new method for safely removing greenhouse gases from the earth’s atmosphere using a liquid metal.

The premise might sound like something out of a sci-fi action movie, but researchers from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, said with more research the method could be a scalable norm.

Published in the journal Nature Communications on Tuesday, the report outlines a safe and permanent solution for removing ozone-depleting greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

According to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a hole in the ozone layer near Antarctica was slightly above average when measured in 2018, coming in at 8.83 million square miles wide – about three times the size of the contiguous United States.

Carbon dioxide enters the earth’s atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels, trees and wood products, along with the burning of certain chemicals.

The new method to get those harmful gases out of the ozone includes an electrochemical technique that captures and converts atmospheric CO2 into storable, solid carbon and was developed by Dorna Esrafilzadeh, a vice chancellor’s research fellow in RMIT’s School of Engineering.

Esrafilzadeh’s technique involves liquid metal catalysts designed to efficiently conduct electricity while chemically activating its surface. Mixed together in a beaker with CO2, liquid metal and an electrolyte liquid, the CO2 slowly breaks down into solid flakes of carbon which are then detached from the liquid metal.

RMIT researcher Torben Daeneke said converting carbon dioxide into a solid could be a more sustainable approach, given the risks involved with current technologies to convert the gas into a liquid and inject it into underground storage tanks. The risks include engineering challenges, the economic viability of the technique and gas leaks at storage sites.

“While we can’t literally turn back time, turning carbon dioxide back into coal and burying it back in the ground is a bit like rewinding the emissions clock,” Daeneke, an Australian Research Council DECRA fellow, said.

The research was conducted at RMIT’s MicroNano Research Facility and the RMIT Microscopy and Microanalysis Facility, with lead investigator, Honorary RMIT and ARC laureate fellow, Professor Kourosh Kalantar-Zadeh.

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