The issues with the conventional fuels used to power our societies are numerous and impactful. Their supply is limited and they are becoming increasingly difficult and costly to attain. Perhaps the most pressing concern, however, regards the carbon emissions that result from their use. Temperatures across the globe are spiking at unprecedented levels, and images of large masses of ice breaking off, and vast areas of land sinking under the water quickly come to mind.
Recent breakthroughs in technology, however, suggest that there is hope for a low-cost and effective solution. For decades, researchers have dismissed efficient carbon sequestering as being far off in the future, and unrealistic. In November of 2011, however, Chemistry Nobel Laureate George A. Olah of USC, published an article in the Journal of the American Chemical Society along with his colleagues, detailing new advances that could rival the long held notion that carbon is difficult to capture and sequester (Dillow, 2012).
Polyethylenimine is a solid plastic with carbon sequestering capability; this fact has long been known. The issue, however, lay with its performance under real-world humidity conditions. Carbon capture decreased significantly and the material was no longer cost-effective. Using nanotechnology and advances in knowledge of materials and their properties, however, scientists have been able to optimize the use of polyethylenimine in everyday conditions (American Chemical Society, 2012). Moreover, the polymer is of relatively low cost, and could in theory be easily implemented to clean emissions for an array of emitters, ranging from smoke stacks to car exhausts. Futhermore, the polymers are reusable, and the captured carbon can be recycled for sale in manufacturing other fuels, thus reducing the overall cycle of excavating for energy sources (Rust, 2012).
Use of this new technology could open up many doors for industrialized societies as they pursue newer technologies that are more sustainable and long lasting. Businesses would be able to operate without having to pay emission taxes, the United States could shift to using “dirtier” fuel sources, thus reducing import costs, and the planet would suffer less of a burden for our energy-intensive lifestyles.
Naturally, feasibility studies will have to take place, and the technology will have to be backed and approved by many other levels of science and government before it is rolled out. Until then, however, it is comfortable to know that there are other avenues that will allow more environmentally friendly use of fossil fuels, until the next big shift in energy sources debuts.
On a personal note, I am excited at the prospect of low-cost and effective carbon sequestration. For as long as I can remember, the world has been on its toes, worried about the disastrous potential of carbon emissions. Moreover, industry advances have been inhibited as developers try to conform to laws that limit carbon emissions.
There is yet much work to be done. The material has to be able to sustain varying temperatures and at a range of altitudes. It would need to be manufactured in a variety of shapes and sizes, and we would need to be able to retrofit it to existing technologies. These are all hurdles that I am confident we can overcome with further research and testing. Nevertheless, the potential exists, and we must try and harness it.
[Dillow, C. (2012, January 09). Popular science. Retrieved from http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2012-01/new-material-can-pull-carbon-dioxide-right-out-air-unprecedented-rates ]
[Alain Goeppert, Miklos Czaun, Robert B. May, G. K. Surya Prakash, George A. Olah, S. R. Narayanan. Carbon Dioxide Capture from the Air Using a Polyamine Based Regenerable Solid Adsorbent. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 2011; 133 (50): 20164 DOI: 10.1021/ja2100005]
[Rust, Susanne. “USC Scientists Develop Material to Trap Carbon Dioxide | California Watch.” California Watch | Bold New Journalism. 10 Jan. 2012. Web. 31 Jan. 2012. <http://californiawatch.org/dailyreport/usc-scientists-develop-material-trap-carbon-dioxide-14378>.]