Remove CO2 from the atmosphere? At MIT they believe that it is better to do it at sea, and they have devised this method
MIT researchers have developed a new method for extracting carbon dioxide from seawater that could prove more efficient and cost-effective than current systems for removing carbon dioxide from the air.
The ocean is the main “sink” of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, absorbing between 30 and 40% of all the gas produced by human activities. That has led to considering the direct removal of carbon dioxide from seawater as another promising possibility to mitigate CO2 emissions.
Current methods for extracting carbon dioxide from seawater apply a voltage across a membrane stack to acidify a feed stream, converting bicarbonates in the water to CO2 molecules, which can then be removed in a vacuum.
However, these membranes are expensive, and chemicals are required to drive the overall reactions of the electrodes at each end of the stack.
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MIT creates a reversible process
The prestigious team of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) has devised a reversible process that consists of electrochemical cells without a membrane. As seawater is pumped into the cells, the reactive electrodes are employed to release protons, which trigger the release of dissolved carbon dioxide from the water.
First, the water is made acidic to dissolve the inorganic bicarbonates and turn them into molecular carbon dioxide, which is then collected as a gas under a vacuum. To recover the protons and change the acidic water to alkaline before returning to the sea then put through a second set of cells that operate at reverse voltage.
Periodically, the roles of the two cells are reversed once one set of electrodes runs out of protons.
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A cheaper and simpler process
The process is much cheaper and simpler than previous methods. The need to introduce chemicals into the anode and cathode half cells and the use of membranes is avoided where possible. In addition, the process is more efficient and allows for faster and more complete removal of carbon dioxide.
Initially, the system could use existing or planned infrastructure that already processes seawater, such as desalination plants but the system is scalable and could also be used by ships and offshore platforms.
This new method could be an important step in the fight against climate change. Even MIT believes that the direct removal of carbon dioxide from seawater could one day lead to overall net negative emissions, meaning that more carbon dioxide is being removed from the atmosphere than is being emitted.
Although MIT’s new method of extracting carbon dioxide from the sea is still in its experimental stage, “We think we’ve found a way to do it much more efficiently and without the need to use expensive chemicals,” says Alan Hatton, a professor at MIT and a member of the project.
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It is necessary to evaluate the environmental impact of this method
As for the environmental impact, Hatton noted that removing carbon dioxide from the ocean has great potential to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “The ocean is the world’s largest carbon dioxide sink. If we could remove even a small fraction of that amount, it would have a significant impact on the global climate.”
However, there are also concerns about the potential negative impacts that removing carbon dioxide from the ocean could have on marine ecosystems. According to a report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the extraction of carbon dioxide from the ocean could have negative impacts on ocean acidification, nutrient availability, and the ecosystem in general.
Although the MIT method uses a carbon dioxide removal technique that doesn’t require chemicals and might have less impact on the environment and more research is needed to determine potential side effects.
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