Researchers at MIT have discovered a new way to remove methane emissions from the atmosphere using zeolites – minerals commonly found in clay and materials, such as cat litter.
Methane is known to be an even more harmful greenhouse gas than CO2, especially in the short-term.
During its first twenty years or so upon being released into the atmosphere, methane’s warming properties have been found to be 84 times higher than those of carbon dioxide.
And to highlight the importance of addressing methane emissions right alongside CO2, their abatement was also emphasized during the COP26 climate conference last year in Glasgow.
Now, a team of scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has developed a reassuring approach that may help control methane emissions and even remove existing emissions from the air.
Furthermore, the approach relies on something that is both abundant and inexpensive – a type of clay known as zeolite.
The idea came to doctoral student Rebecca Brenneis, Associate Professor Desiree Plata and two other researchers at MIT, when they were struggling to find a solution for the diffuse and distributed sources of methane emissions in the world.
And they came across the answer in zeolite clays – a material so cheap that is typically used to produce cat litter.
As the scientists discovered, treating the zeolites with insignificant amounts of copper allows them to start effectively absorbing methane directly from the atmosphere, even in places where it is of very low concentration.
This process of capturing methane from the air has many advantages over existing alternatives, at the forefront of which is its cost.
Currently applied methods usually rely on expensive catalysts and require extremely high temperatures in addition to complex cycling, which, in turn, makes the devices riskier and more complicated.
These are among the reasons you don’t hear much about such systems – they simply aren’t viable and have not found wide application.
In contrast, the new zeolite-based solution for methane removal is safer and requires less energy with peak effectiveness being achieved at half the temperature needed for other methods
Moreover, it can remove even tiny concentrations of as little as 1% of methane – something other approaches cannot.