By - August 20, 20152 Pictures

The researchers say that with a physical area less than 10 percent the size of the Sahara Desert, the method could cut concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere to pre-industrial levels within 10 years (Credit: Shutterstock)

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Carbon nanofibers hold tremendous potential. They may one day be put to use in tougher bulletproof vests, artificial muscles or rebuilding damaged hearts, just to name a few possibilities. But could the greatest gift these little wonders offer humanity be not what they bring into the world but what they take out of it? Scientists have developed a technique that could pull the mounting carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and transform it into carbon nanofibers, resulting in raw materials for use in anything from sports gear to commercial airliners.

Led by Stuart Licht, the team from George Washington University working on the approach describe it as "diamonds from the sky." This is in part because diamonds are made of carbon, but also because of how valuable these atmosphere-derived fibers may one day prove to be.

The system takes carbon dioxide and bathes it in molten carbonates bubbling away at 1,380° F (750° C). Air from the atmosphere is then introduced, as is a direct electrical current courtesy of nickel and steel electrodes. This sees the carbon dioxide dissolve and the carbon nanofibers begin to build up on the steel electrode.

"We have found a way to use atmospheric CO2 to produce high-yield carbon nanofibers," says Licht. "Such nanofibers are used to make strong carbon composites, such as those used in the Boeing Dreamliner, as well as in high-end sports equipment, wind turbine blades and a host of other products."

One of the other strengths of the method is the small amount of energy required to power it. A hybrid system incorporating solar cells and a thermal energy collector is used to bring the bath to the required temperature, a process said to use as little as a single volt of electricity.

"Carbon nanofiber growth can occur at less than 1 volt at 750° C, which for example is much less than the 3 to 5 volts used in the 1,000° C industrial formation of aluminum,” Licht explains.

Licht claims that if the researchers were to scale up their operation to cover a physical area less than 10 percent the size of the Sahara Desert, it would be enough to cut the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to pre-industrial levels within 10 years. And they'd be supplying plenty of materials for future manufacturing while they're at it.

With the research still in the experimental phase, the team is now looking at how best to scale up the process and how it can produce nanofibers of a consistent size. "We are scaling up quickly," says Licht. “And soon should be in range of making tens of grams (0.04 oz) of nanofibers an hour."

The research is being presented at the 250th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society in Boston this week.

You can hear Licht describe the research in the video below.

Source: American Chemical Society


Sucking CO2 Out of the Atmosphere To Create Carbon Fibers
Sucking CO2 Out of the Atmosphere To Create Carbon Fibers


Instant-RunOff-... 4 years 12 weeks ago

That would be worth doing some R&D on for way in the future application. But it would be unbelievably stupid to spend all that money trying to take CO2 out of the atmosphere when we don't spend zip rationally to avoid dumping it into the atmospherse in the first place.

Talk about stupid. It would be a whole lot cheaper to just replace fossil fuels with nuclear energy and not dump all the pollution into the atmosphere in the first place. Once all fossil fuels have been replaced by nuclear and a little hydro, solar, wind & geothermal. Then we could rationally consider removing CO2 from the atmosphere. Until such time, it is would be nothing short of another outrageous subsidy for fossil fuel. Yep, you just dump all those emissions into our atmosphere free of charge and then the taxpayer will pay to clean the mess up at probably 10X more than it would cost to avoid that in the first place. Craziness.

jason13's picture
jason13 4 years 12 weeks ago

This is a good idea but,don't take too much away. The last time I checked plants need CO2 in order to survive and release oxygen as a by-product in order for us to survive.Unless something has changed since 5th grade science class. Not to mention that the earth has not warmed in over 18 years and periods of heat and cold waves have been common throughout the planet's history but hey... I guess you can't tax and control the planet huh?

Instant-RunOff-... 4 years 12 weeks ago

If you love CO2 so much and somehow imagine the Earth is not warming, than why in the Fuck do you figure "this is a good idea"?!? Bizarre or what.

jason13's picture
jason13 4 years 12 weeks ago

The earth hasn't warmed in over 18 years, that's not my opinion it's a fact! It's also not "bizarre" to appreciate a scientific achievement. That's how I fuckin consider it a good idea.

Instant-RunOff-... 4 years 12 weeks ago

You wouldn't know a fact if you bumped right into one. And the only way this is a good idea would be as a method of mitigating global warming. Use your friggin brain.

Instant-RunOff-... 4 years 12 weeks ago

Making carbon nanofibers from atmospheric CO2 is a crazy idea, 0.00001% of atmospheric CO2 would make more carbon fibers than we would ever need. If anyone has a cost effective way to make carbon nanofibers, using atmospheric CO2 instead of readily available and dirt cheap carbon would be absolutely pointless, which makes the whole scheme sound like horse-pucky.

What is really needed is a cost effective way to use atmospheric CO2 to make large quantities of liquid fuels. All practical liquid fuels have high carbon content, which when burned is released to the atmosphere, and thus the big problem with liquid fuels (unless you are a denier like jason here).

Using atmospheric CO2 to produce liquid fuels makes those fuels carbon neutral. The best known methods to achieve that is with Nuclear electricity & Nuclear hydrogen combined with carbon capture from the atmosphere to produce methanol. But it is much more economical using concentrated CO2 feedstock from flue gas or carbon waste from other industrial & agricultural applications and biomass as feedstock.

telliottmbamsc's picture
telliottmbamsc 4 years 12 weeks ago

Sounds good but it is all qualified in the first sentence with the word "could" not "will" or "is going to" but the speculative "could"

It's all just propaganda meant to take the pressure of the dirty fossil fuel industry. You must work for the White House or a Fracking concern to put such a post out here.

jason13's picture
jason13 4 years 12 weeks ago

Talk about being a denier, the earth isn't warming and the sky isn't falling. These are facts, sorry they don't fit into your global warming religion.

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