Energy-Efficient Carbon Capture, Conversion Technology Good For Challenging Industrial Sectors

Sept. 8, 2023
Researchers at MIT explore an integrated electrochemical system that could play a pivotal role in reducing emissions from hard-to-abate sectors.

Scientists at MIT are exploring carbon-capture technologies to combat greenhouse gas emissions in challenging industrial sectors like steel, cement and chemical manufacturing, according to a press release from the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based school. These industries are tough to decarbonize due to their inherent reliance on carbon and fossil fuels. Current carbon capture technologies involve separate and energy-intensive processes for capture and conversion. However, MIT researchers have uncovered a more energy-efficient approach that combines both processes into one integrated system, potentially powered by renewable energy.

In a study published in ACS Catalysis, the MIT team reveals a single electrochemical process that captures and converts carbon dioxide. This process employs an electrode to attract and convert carbon dioxide released from a sorbent into a reduced, reusable form. While similar demonstrations exist, the MIT researchers have clarified the mechanisms driving this electrochemical reaction, emphasizing the importance of the partial pressure of carbon dioxide. This breakthrough suggests that such electrochemical systems are well-suited for highly concentrated emissions generated by industrial processes with no renewable alternatives.

The integrated electrochemical system could play a pivotal role in reducing emissions from hard-to-abate sectors, bridging the gap until industries like cement and steel can fully transition to renewables. The system could recycle carbon dioxide, making it a crucial tool in the fight against climate change, although it's not a removal technology. The research is a step toward the longer-term goal of permanent carbon storage and mineralization.

“This is not a removal technology, and it’s important to state that,” stresses study author Betar Gallant, the Class of 1922 Career Development Associate Professor at MIT. “The value that it does bring is that it allows us to recycle carbon dioxide some number of times while sustaining existing industrial processes, for fewer associated emissions. Ultimately, my dream is that electrochemical systems can be used to facilitate mineralization, and permanent storage of CO2 — a true removal technology. That’s a longer-term vision. And a lot of the science we’re starting to understand is a first step toward designing those processes.”

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