NIST Unveils New Testing System For Direct Air Capture Plants

NIST Unveils New Testing System For Direct Air Capture Plants - Carbon Herald
Credit: J. Stoughton/NIST

Amid the proliferation of direct air capture (DAC) facilities worldwide as part of the efforts to mitigate carbon emissions and combat climate change, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has pioneered a novel high-precision testing method to evaluate the equipment used in such plants.

This innovative project involves the development of a sophisticated testing apparatus to assess the efficacy of sorbents utilized in DAC plants for capturing carbon from the air, NIST said in a statement Thursday.

This initiative is aimed at furnishing the DAC industry with an early-stage reference material for evaluating equipment performance.

NIST’s apparatus operates by channeling synthetic air through a vertical column, where the sorbent sequesters carbon molecules.

Subsequently, the device gauges the rate at which the sorbent reaches saturation with CO2, providing crucial insights into its effectiveness.

Importantly, this method is exclusively focused on solid sorbents, such as ion exchange resin, polymer-impregnated mesoporous silica (PIMS) and metal-organic frameworks (MOF).

Image: J. Manion/NIST

With over 100 DAC facilities worldwide, the first U.S. plant was launched last fall in Northern California, and the Department of Energy (DOE) has earmarked billions of dollars to provide seed funding to four more regional DAC hubs.

Aligning with the International Energy Agency (IEA)’s endorsement of DAC as a “key technology”, NIST’s initiative offers a method to benchmark sorbent performance, facilitating the creation of research-grade test materials (RGTMs).

These RGTMs, subject to rigorous validation, serve as invaluable tools for companies to calibrate their equipment and benchmark their materials against NIST’s standards.

Relevant: U.S. DOE Earmarks $1.3M For DAC Innovations

“Our test and the RGTMs will allow for the critical and impartial evaluation of new, emerging DAC materials and a more comprehensive understanding of their performance,” Sean McGivern, a research chemist at NIST, said, emphasizing the significance of this initiative in advancing the development of measurements and standards for the DAC industry.

Looking ahead, Pamela Chu, coordinator of NIST’s Carbon Accounting and Decarbonization Program, underscores the imperative of scaling up DAC technology.

“We need to scale this technology up by approximately six orders of magnitude to have the needed climate impact,” she said, highlighting the need for more research and development to achieve optimal efficiency and economic viability of the technology.

More information on NIST’s testing apparatus, first described in the journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research in May 2023, can be found here.

Read more: How Are Large Scale DAC Developments Driving Community Benefits And Engagement?

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