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Technology

40. Ceramic Tubes Rein In Carbon Dioxide Pollution

By Richard HollinghamDecember 28, 2007 6:00 AM

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Small ceramic tubes resembling fine drinking straws could be used to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, at the same time producing useful by-products—including coffee and soda.

In August, a team of engineers from Newcastle University and Imperial College London published a study of this new application of LSCF (lanthanum-strontium-cobalt–ferric oxide). Tubes made from LSCF have the property of being permeable to oxygen ions—oxygen atoms with an electric charge—and little else. Using 15-inch-long tubes to filter oxygen from air, the researchers were able to burn hydrocarbons in the purified atmosphere to produce energy, steam, and nearly pure carbon dioxide (CO2).

When hydrocarbon-based fuels like methane are burned in normal air, nitrogen gets mixed in with the combustion product—flue gases from conventional gas power stations contain as little as 3 percent CO2—which makes scrubbing carbon from power plant emissions difficult and expensive. Carbon dioxide, on the other hand, is not only easy to handle but actually useful.

“If it’s really pure CO2, you could make fizzy lemonade with it!” says lead scientist Ian Metcalfe. “One of the interesting areas for CO2 is using it as a solvent. It’s used to extract the caffeine from coffee beans to make decaffeinated coffee, for instance.” On a larger scale, it could be used in the production of organic chemicals or pumped back into oil wells, improving oil field yields and sealing the carbon safely away underground.

So far, the process has been attempted only in a laboratory. Now the challenge is to scale it up to an industrial level.

Go to the next article: 41. Black Hole Feasts At Milky Way’s Center

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