The global development of industry, technology, and the transportation sector has resulted in massive consumption of fossil fuels. As these fuels are burned, emissions are released—namely carbon dioxide. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, combustion of petroleum-based products resulted in 6,587 million metric tons of carbon dioxide released into the environment in 2015. But what if we could capture the greenhouse gas and not only convert it, but potentially make a huge profit?
That’s exactly what ECS member Stuart Licht is looking to do.
In a new study, Licht and his team demonstrate using carbon dioxide and solar thermal energy to produce high yields of millimeter-lengths carbon nanotube (CNT) wool at a cost of $660 per ton. According to marketplace values, these CNTs, which have applications ranging from textiles to cement, could then be sold for up to $400,000 per ton.
“We have introduced a new class of materials called ‘Carbon Nanotube Wool,’ which are the first CNTs that can be directly woven into a cloth, as they are of macroscopic length and are cheap to produce,” Licht, a chemistry professor at George Washington University, tells Phys.org. “The sole reactant to produce the CNT wools is the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.”
This from Phys.org:
The new study builds on the scientists’ previous research going back to 2010, when they first proposed the idea of a solar thermal electrochemical process (STEP), in which solar energy is used to power an electrolytic cell. This cell captures and breaks down, or electrolyzes, atmospheric CO2 into carbon or carbon monoxide and oxygen. The carbon byproducts can then be used to synthesize various products, such as methane, syngas, and ammonia. Although useful, these products are valued at around $100 per ton, and so are not nearly as valuable as CNTs.
“Inexpensive, weavable CNT wools are preferred replacements for conventional steel and aluminum applications, due to the CNT wools’ lightweight, strength-to-mass advantage,” Licht says. “In addition to textiles, CNT wools serve as preferred additives to formulate blast- and fracture-resistant cement and ceramics. Other applications of stronger-than-steel, highly conductive CNT cloth are bullet-proof CNT suits and taser-proof suits.”