MIT discovers a new battery that gobbles up carbon dioxide

 In Batteries

Much research has been done to tackle carbon dioxide emission – the downside of fossil fuels energy production – and amongst these researches, carbon capture technologies have also been developed.

These are essentially technologies that allow power plans to capture and store carbon dioxide produced during the generation of electricity.

Unfortunately, this approach is very costly as 30% of the energy produced by the plan needs to be redirected straight into this process.

It’s also difficult to create value on the carbon dioxide stored as its conversion into sellable products is not easy and its transformation requires expensive high energy processes and metal catalysts.

However, MIT developers seem to have discovered a technology that could continuously transform carbon dioxide into a solid mineral carbonate as it discharges – a new technology that could be implemented directly by power plants.

Current Technologies and MIT research

The currently used technologies to capture CO2 emissions are based on using chemical absorption, they then release the carbon dioxide in gas form and to keep it in long-term storage. Eventually, a further chemical process will transform it into useful substances. However, as mentioned already, this solution doesn’t look viable in the long terms.

Luckly, the solution to this problem could be a battery developed by mechanical engineer Betar Gallant, doctoral student Aliza Khurram, and postdoc Mingfu He at the Minnesota Institute of Technology (MIT).

This battery that the team just developed is made from lithium metal, carbon, and an especially designe electrolyte that continuously convert carbon dioxide into a solid mineral carbonate as it discharges. This important discovery was recently described in the journal Joule.

This technology is indeed at a very early stage but, as also expressed by MIT, the new battery formulation could open up new opportunities for tailoring electrochemical carbon dioxide conversion reactions.

The new battery: how does it work

Starting by incorporating the gas in a liquid state, Gallant and his colleagues found a way to achieve electrochemical carbon dioxide conversion using only a carbon electrode. The key is to pre-activate the carbon dioxide by incorporating it into an amine solution.

“What we’ve shown for the first time is that this technique activates the carbon dioxide for more facile electrochemistry,” Gallant says. “These two chemistries — aqueous amines and nonaqueous battery electrolytes — are not normally used together, but we found that their combination imparts new and interesting behaviors that can increase the discharge voltage and allow for the sustained conversion of carbon dioxide.”

This approach still needs optimization and further development. For example, the technologies only it allows 10 charge-discharge cycles, and therefore more work is certainly needed to improve on rechargeability and avoid quick degradation.

Still, the concept is indeed very promising and it could help to tackle the “carbon capture issue” that many analysts consider extremely important to meet global targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The best solution currently available for this problem at the moment is probably underground geological disposal which is still an approach that remains somewhat unproven that requires more energy production anyway for drilling and pumping.

Reactions to the discovery

Analysts and researchers have reacted very possibility to the discovery. Amongst them Kisuk Kang, a professor at Seoul National University in South Korea, commented:

“It was interesting that Gallant and co-workers cleverly combined the prior knowledge from two different areas, metal-gas battery electrochemistry, and carbon-dioxide capture chemistry, and succeeded in increasing both the energy density of the battery and the efficiency of the carbon dioxide capture,” and it continues:“Even though more precise understanding of the product formation from carbon dioxide may be needed in the future, this kind of interdisciplinary approach is very exciting and often offers unexpected results, as the authors elegantly demonstrated here”.

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