July 19, 2017 (Phys.org) -- When most people hear the term "CO2 emissions," they probably think of several negative things: greenhouse gas, pollutant, climate change, political discord, economic burden. But a team of researchers led by Stuart Licht, a chemistry professor at George Washington University, has a vision for transforming CO2 emissions from a pollutant into a valuable resource -- all while making a potentially large net profit.
In a new study published in Materials Today Energy, the researchers have shown that they can use CO2 and solar thermal energy to produce high yields of millimeter-length carbon nanotube (CNT) wool at a cost of just $660 per ton. The market value of long CNTs like these -- which can be woven into textiles to make metals, cement replacements, and other materials -- is currently $100,000-$400,000 per ton.
"We have introduced a new class of materials called 'Carbon Nanotube Wool,' which are the first CNTs that can be directly woven into a cloth, as they are of macroscopic length and are cheap to produce," Licht told Phys.org. "The sole reactant to produce the CNT wools is the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide."
The researchers hope that the new technology, called C2CNT (CO2 to CNTs), will offer an indisputable economic incentive to remove excess CO2 from the atmosphere. They calculate that, if they were to set up solar thermal stations over an area equal to 4% of the Sahara Desert, they could reduce the CO2 concentration of the atmosphere back to pre-industrial levels in 10 years. They note that a more realistic implementation would be to set up stations on the oceans, where there is more available surface area.