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Can Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Make Nanofibers?

Carbon nanofibers made from atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Carbon nanofibers made from atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Climate scientists now concede that in order to mitigate the effects of climate change, it is not enough to simply reduce fossil fuel emissions.

No, the situation is dire enough that we need to find a way to actually remove the carbon dioxide already emitted into the atmosphere. Scientists have largely focused their efforts on carbon sequestration, which stores collected carbon into underground reservoirs. This new method would actually turn atmospheric carbon dioxide into carbon nanofibers that can be used to make other useful things.

Carbon nanofibers will likely someday make safer bulletproof vests and airplanes, so the potential benefits of this new discovery mind-blowing. The innovation comes from a research team at George Washington University, led by Stuart Licht.

The technique starts with molten carbonates heated to 1,380° F. Outside air is funneled into the system, along with an electrical current created by nickel and steel electrodes. The atmospheric carbon dioxide will then begin to dissolve and carbon nanofibers form on the steel electrode.

According to Licht’s calculations, if these systems were to cover an area equivalent to 10% of the Sahara Desert, atmospheric carbon dioxide could return to pre-Industrial levels within 10 years(!!).

There is even another incredible upside from this announcement. The technique requires very little energy. The scientists used solar energy and collected thermal energy to heat the carbonates to the right temperature, and used as little as 1 volt of electricity to run the system. Licht explains that this is far lower than industrial aluminum formation, which uses 3-5 volts.

Another big benefit from this system is the increase in carbon nanofibers for use in manufacturing other goods. Lower emissions from manufacturing would go a long way to reducing the total atmospheric carbon dioxide.

The researchers are now looking at how to scale the process for mass use, so look forward to this new, game-changing technology.

Image (c) American Chemical Society

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  1. So, is the plan to keep producing crud in the atmosphere and then keep cleaning it up? That would certainly make the hydrocarbon companies happy. Or, are we going to keep reducing the pollution by switching over to renewables and electric transportation? How about we do both until we don’t need to clean up behind hydrocarbon usage any more.

    • Well, scientists have concluded that, in order to fix the problems we have caused by releasing fossil fuel emissions, we really do have to get some of that carbon out of the atmosphere, and quickly. It’s sad that it has come to that point, but the fact still remains that we need technologies like this. You’re right, though, that it needs to be only one part of the solution and not the whole solution. Focusing on renewables and sustainability is still extremely important.


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