Washington: Scientists have developed a novel chemical system that captures carbon from the air turning CO2 and salt solution into valuable products.
Deane Little, CEO of New Sky Energy, says he first learnt to capture carbon using sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) when he was working on the biodegradation of chlorinated solvents at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Caustic soda, a major industrial chemical, can fix a large amount of CO2.
It``s broadly used in industrial manufacturing, including paper, soaps and detergents.
But producing sodium hydroxide is energy intensive and creates chlorine gas as a byproduct.
Thus, Little decided to search for an alternative sustainable process.
With less than 50dollar worth of materials from a local hardware store, he invented a prototype reactor that could take water, a salt solution, as well as atmospheric CO2 and, with an electric charge, turn it into an acid, a base, hydrogen and oxygen, reports Discovery News.
Thereafter, base reacts with CO2 to form safe carbonates like baking soda or limestone.
"No one else can do what we propose to do," says New Sky``s executive vice president for business development Mark Ashford.
Unlike chlorine gas, the carbonate byproducts from their system are extremely valuable.
Baking soda is eaten and calcium carbonate can be used in building materials.
The need to mine salt for this could pose a problem, except that new desalination efforts mean opportunities to collect and use unwanted salt.
The electrical charges will come from solar panels or other renewable energy sources.
"We``re moving up in prototypes," said chief technical officer Joe Kosmoski.
Now the plan is to scale the reactors up physically and then out, he said, similar to the way batteries are scaled by stacking electrodes.
This hasn``t been done before because the chlorine remained a hurdle and dealing with that is difficult and expensive.
Moreover, Kosmoski pointed out, there was less pressure to reduce CO2 in the past and not much incentive to switch from the established production methods.
Currently New Sky is setting up a large pilot project in the Fresno area.
The project is funded by a water agency that sells irrigation water to farms and one of the partners is a desalination plant.
Using a reactor that could fill a tractor trailer, New Sky aims to prove that their system can desalinate water, precipitate the sodium sulfate salt, and end up with clean water and useful products that are worth more than the water``s value.