Oregon State Researchers Explore Element-Based Carbon Capture Method

Factory releasing carbon emissions into the air

(Credit: Oregon State University)

by | Feb 16, 2024

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Researchers at Oregon State University have discovered the ability for vanadium peroxide molecules to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

The Oregon State study, part of a $24 million federal initiative to develop new direct air carbon capture methods, has explored how transition metal complexes react with the air to remove carbon and convert it to metal carbonate. By combining vanadium with other elements, like potassium and rubidium, multi-part molecules were able to remove carbon despite its very small densities in the atmosphere — about 0.04% of air molecules are carbon dioxide.

“A challenge with direct air capture is finding molecules or materials that are selective enough, or other reactions with more abundant air molecules, such as reactions with water, will outcompete the reaction with CO2,” said May Nyman, the Terence Bradshaw professor of chemistry at Oregon State and lead of the study. “Our team synthesized a series of molecules that contain three parts that are important in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and they work together.”

Vanadium was specifically found to capture carbon dioxide with a comparatively low-temperature release of 200 degrees Celsius. In terms of direct air capture systems, lower temperatures allow for less energy intensity and lower overall costs once in commercial use.

Researchers Find Potential to Remove 1 Billion Tons Carbon Annually

Carbon removal, though not to be considered a solution for continued use of fossil fuels, is a necessary piece of meeting global decarbonization targets. In the United States, many researchers across the country have joined the Oregon State lab in developing new direct air capture techniques for more carbon removal in the long term.

Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory completed an investigation last year to identify how the U.S. may go about removing 1 billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere each year.

The study found that the country will need to implement all available carbon removal methods, many of which would use carbon sequestration in agricultural soils, forests, and the ocean. These natural forms of carbon capture are already known, viable solutions, while direct air capture systems generally remain in development stages and are not yet available at scale.

Some direct air capture systems have proven their viability, but may only be able to capture around 50 to 1,000 tons of carbon a year — not nearly enough to meet needed levels at present. Scientific findings such as Oregon State’s may contribute to large-scale direct air capture systems of the future, reportedly required to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

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