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New technology could offer huge boost to heavy industry decarbonisation

Smart, super-efficient, and scalable, Australian researchers believe they have developed a game-changing approach to transforming CO2 into solid state carbon.

Scientists at RMIT University, Melbourne, have created a carbon dioxide utilisation technology that can significantly improve the environmental impact of areas such as steel and cement production, which are particularly damaging as both are energy-intensive, and emit harmful emissions directly into the atmosphere.

Combined, the two industries account for around 7% of global CO2 pollution, according to the International Energy Agency, and those numbers are expected to climb in the coming years due to the breakneck pace of urbanisation and overall population growth. It has long been posed that carbon capture, converting gas into solid material to be stored or utilised, could be an important weapon in the battle to bring emissions back below safe levels.

black and gray metal pipe

However, the technology has a number of problems, including scalability to a size that can offer significant impact, and the efficiency of the process itself. A UK report also showed that although carbon capture is a good idea in principle, how solid material is used or stored can make a huge difference in terms of the ability to tackle the climate crisis. 

‘Our new method still harnesses the power of liquid metals but the design has been modified for smoother integration into standard industrial processes,’ said Associate Professor Torben Daeneke, who co-led on the research, which was first published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science. ‘As well as being simpler to scale up, the new tech is radically more efficient and can break down CO2 to carbon in an instant.

‘We hope this could be a significant new tool in the push towards decarbonisation, to help industries and governments deliver on their climate commitments and bring us radically closer to net zero,’ he continued. ‘Turning CO2 into a solid avoids potential issues of leakage and locks it away securely and indefinitely… And because our process does not use very high temperatures, it would be feasible to power the reaction with renewable energy.’

A provisional patent application has now been filed for the technology, and those behind development have confirmed a $2.6million AUD agreement has been signed with environmental tech firm ABR, which focuses on commercialising solutions to decarbonising the cement and steel sectors. Adding to the appeal of RMIT’s breakthrough, the Australian government has also announced a $1billion fund for low emission technology and highlighted carbon capture as an investment priority.

Photo credit: Yasin Hm

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