Engineers from the University of Delaware have discovered a new, much more effective way to capture 99% of CO2 emissions from the air.
The novel approach involves a hydrogen-powered electrochemical system.
And in addition to providing a major advancement for carbon capture tech, it may also help bring more eco-friendly fuel cells to the market.
The method has been described by head of the research team UD Professor Yushan Yan in Nature Energy.
Dubbed ‘game-changing tech’ for the efficiency of fuel cells, the new method was actually discovered in attempts to improve their performance.
Yan and other scientists had spent 15 years trying to figure out a workaround for a hydroxide exchange membrane (HEM) fuel cell defect ironically caused by carbon dioxide.
How CO2 Capture works
HEM fuel cells tend to be highly sensitive to CO2 in the air, as carbon makes it difficult for them to breathe.
As a result, the performance and efficiency of HEM fuel cells dropped by as much as 20%, making them no better than a gasoline engine.
After so many years spent struggling to overcome this obstacle, the researchers realized that it might actually be an advantage for carbon removal.
In fact, after digging deeper, they came to the conclusion that the fuel cells were able to capture almost every bit of CO2 that came their way and demonstrated incredible efficiency in separating the captured carbon to the other side.
And while this may be bad news for the fuel cell, being able to leverage this process in a separate device could see it turned into a CO2 separator.
The results were a compact, spiral module, with fewer components than other alternatives, making it more effective, cheaper to produce and scalable.
If scaled for an automotive application, as, say, for a hybrid or electric vehicle, the device would be approximately the size of a gallon of milk.
But it may just as easily be applied to remove CO2 in other areas, as well.