In an effort to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from factories — thought to be at least partly responsible for climate change along with other greenhouse gas emissions — scientists from the University of Waterloo have developed a powder that can seize CO2 in power plants and factories.

Developed in the lab of Waterloo chemical engineer Zhongwei Chen, the powder is able to filter and remove CO2 at facilities such as fossil-fuel powered factories and power plants before escaping into the atmosphere. The method, according to the team of scientists, is twice as effective as current methods.

"This will be more and more important in the future," said Chen. "We have to find ways to deal with all the CO2 produced by burning fossil fuels."

In a process known as adsorption, CO2 molecules adhere to the surface of carbon once they are introduced to each other. Considering that it is inexpensive, environmentally friendly and abundant, carbon is an ideal material for capturing CO2, according to the team. As such, the team manipulated the size and pore concentration in carbon materials in an effort to improve the process of adsorption.

The team developed a method for extracting black carbon powder from plant matter using a combination of salt and heat. The carbon spheres that compose the powder include countless pores, the majority of which measure under one-millionth of a meter in diameter.

“The porosity of this material is extremely high," said Chen. "And because of their size, these pores can capture CO2 very efficiently. The performance is almost doubled."

Following saturation with carbon dioxide at locations such as fossil fuel power plants, the powder would be gathered and then taken to storage sites where it will be buried in underground geological arrangements, preventing the release of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Chen also envisions other applications for the powder. The process of manipulating both the size and concentration of pores might prove useful in manufacturing optimized carbon powders for the purpose of water filtration and energy storage.

The research appears in the journal Carbon.

To contact the author of this article, email