Al Gore never saw this one coming. Researchers at George Washington University say they have created carbon nanofibers using a combination of solar power and CO2, a process which literally sucks carbon dioxide out of the air. Since CO2 is considered a major factor in climate change, some are already predicting carbon nanofibers could be the defining tech which solves the global warming problem. But are such statements actually realistic?
In a related report by the Inquisitr, it’s claimed that global warming helped find some Japanese climbers who went missing on the Matterhorn 45 years ago.
The announcement about the carbon nanofibers was made at the 250th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). The process uses only several volts of electricity provided by solar energy to power two electrodes immersed in a mixture of lithium carbonate and lithium oxide. Atmospheric air is added to an electrolytic cell, and the CO2 dissolves in the molten bath. The carbon nanofibers then form on the steel electrode, where they can be removed.
Right now, carbon nanofibers are an expensive product, but lead researcher Stuart Licht believes that carbon composites created from these “diamonds from the sky” eventually replace steel, aluminum, and even concrete as a building material for all types of construction, from roads to buildings and other high tech products.
“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,” Licht said, according to Science Daily.
When the system is ramped up to production levels, Licht estimates the cost of carbon nanofibers to be around $1,000 per ton. What’s more, since the entire process is powered by renewable energy, the net result is that more CO2 is taken out of the air than is added. The researchers believe it’s possible global warming could be indirectly combated if carbon nanofibers became mainstream. Graduate student Jessica Stuart says carbon nanofibers could shift CO2 from being the nemesis behind global warming to a valuable commodity which drives the carbon nanofibers industry.
“We calculate that with a physical area less than 10 percent the size of the Sahara Desert, our process could remove enough CO2 to decrease atmospheric levels to those of the pre-industrial revolution within 10 years,” Licht explained, noting how their process can also be used as a “means of storing and sequestering carbon dioxide in a useful manner, a stable manner, and in a compact manner.”
Not everyone believes the global warming problem could be solved completely with carbon nanofibers. MIT Technology Review notes that making a dent against global warming “would require a huge increase in demand for carbon nanofibers.” Paul Fennell, a chemical engineer not involved in the George Washington University project, told BBC that he’d be surprised if the CO2 tech is the end game for climate change.
“If they can make carbon nanofibers, that is a laudable aim and they’re a worthwhile product to have,” Fennell said. “But if your idea is to take CO2 out of the atmosphere and produce so many carbon nanofibers that you make a difference to climate change–I’d be extremely surprised if you could do that.”
Another factor not mentioned by the researchers is that solar power panels do have a carbon footprint. It remains to be seen whether these many factories for creating carbon nanofibers will ever become dominant, and whether the net result from these unique concentrated solar power systems is still CO2 being removed from the air.
Still, carbon nanofibers do seem to hold more promise than Al Gore’s carbon credit scheme. What do you think?