CSIRO ‘solar sponge’ soaks up CO₂ emissions

From the ‘CO2 must be assimilated’ department comes this press release from CSIRO. I have to wonder if this is a ‘spongeworthy’ project.

Illustration showing sun and diagram of process occuring at top of chimney. Capturing carbon dioxide through MOFs. Image: CSIRO

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CSIRO scientists have created a ‘solar sponge’ which captures and then releases carbon dioxide using the power of natural sunlight – as published today in scientific journal Angewandte Chemie.

The breakthrough presents a new way to recycle CO2 emissions using renewable energy. The ‘sponge’ which is made from a new smart material called a MOF – metal organic framework – adsorbs carbon dioxide, but when exposed to sunlight, instantaneously releases it.

Known as dynamic photo-switching, this capture-and-release method is extremely energy efficient and only requires UV light to trigger the release of CO2 after it has been captured from the mixture of exhaust gases.

“This is an exciting development for carbon capture because concentrated solar energy can be used instead of further coal-based energy to drive the process.”

Dr Matthew Hill, CSIRO research scientist

Dr Matthew Hill, who was awarded a 2012 Eureka Prize for his MOF research and led the CSIRO group conducting this research, said: “The capture and release process can be compared to soaking up water with a sponge and then wringing it out. When UV light hits the material its structure bends and twists and stored gas is released.”

“This is an exciting development for carbon capture because concentrated solar energy can be used instead of further coal-based energy to drive the process,” he added.

The traditional process for carbon dioxide capture has been to use liquid absorbers such as amines to remove flue gases at a coal-fired power station before they are released into the atmosphere. They are then heated to release the CO2 which is then stored and can be re-used. This process can consume as a much as 30 per cent of a power plant’s production capacity.

MOFs absorb as much as a litre of nitrogen gas in just one gram of material. This is possible because MOFs have the surface area of a football field in just one gram, meaning that gases can be soaked up like a sponge to all of the internal surfaces within.

In their paper titled ‘Dynamic Photo-Switching in Metal Organic Frameworks as a Route to Low Energy Carbon Dioxide Capture and Release’ CSIRO researchers show that when exposed to concentrated UV light the MOF sponge instantaneously releases up to 64 per cent of absorbed CO2.

Lead researcher and author of the paper, Richelle Lyndon, who is also a Monash University student, said: “The MOFs are impregnated with light-responsive azobenzene molecules which react to UV light and trigger the release of CO2. It is this reaction, and the material’s ability to bend and flex, which makes the material we have created so unique.”

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66 thoughts on “CSIRO ‘solar sponge’ soaks up CO₂ emissions

  1. I’ve been doing this for years. I use the concentrated sunlight to grow my leafy plants which absorb the carbon dioxide from coal based power stations anywhere in the world. When I want to release it again, I trigger the release of the CO2 with a match, having cut down the plants and allowed them to dry.

    I call this biomass burning.

    Beware, biomass burning is probably worse that coal burning for pollutants. Trees have a habit of taking up mercury from the soil and can also release dioxins when they are burnt.

  2. CO2 is not a problem.
    Stupid people, pretending to do science, while conflating it with their religion du jour is the problem.

    This technology is a solution, looking for a problem.

  3. So, when the sponge is full, where are they going to squeeze it out?
    Pursing largely useless technology for a false purpose could be considered a waste of resources.
    This technology might be useful in some other venues, but not for CO2 sequestration, as all efforts to do so are a waste of time and money.

  4. perhaps they can release it in the greenhouses that pump their co2 levels up to a 1000+ppm.

    freaking idiots.

  5. So you take the saturated sponge with you on vacation, and drop it into a jug of iced G&T on a hot sunny beach, and it keeps it fizzy or hours!

    Brilliant invention.

  6. The key phrase in the title is “…as a route to…”
    Along with “towards” this is standard chemist-speak for: “this fails horribly, but we’ve done it and now we are to publish it regardless.”

    Angew Chem is a proper chemistry journal, but the linked abstract doesn’t even contain a chemical description of what has been done, suggesting that “It’s worse than I thought.”

  7. Just a thought
    Imagine a catalytic converter that would remove C02 out of the exhaust gas….. do you think it would ever get allowed near a vehicle in the EU ?
    It would get buried in the Brussels Bunker

  8. Already there are catalysts for harvesting solar power to make fuel from CO2 and H2O. Their usefulness depends on how cheaply they can be manufactured and deployed. The techonology highlighted here does not seem to be as useful.

  9. I wonder if the sponges can be tuned to absorb real pollutants.

    SOx, NOx, etc. If there is a cheap enough way to eliminate them, it’ll get rid of a real negative externality of coal plants. And diesel engines.

  10. If the “sponge” were to be put in a smoke stack (or into the vessel from last night’s post on the Ohio State coal experiment) to conveniently store the CO2 to sell to the greenhouse industry as an easy way to boost CO2, the power plant could then make a profit off of what is now a waste stream. Might defray some of the fuel costs.

  11. What happens to the 26% of captured CO2 that isn’t released when exposed to UV? Are these filters disposable?

  12. “This is an exciting development for carbon capture because concentrated solar energy can be used instead of further coal-based energy to drive the process,” he added.

    Yes but there is no scientific need for carbon capture in the first place. Only people in the climate carbon cult are worried about CO2 and their fears are baseless.

  13. I have to agree with Paul Westhaver – this IS a solution looking for a problem. As to this comment –
    vboring says:

    February 21, 2013 at 9:57 am

    I wonder if the sponges can be tuned to absorb real pollutants.

    Are the real pollutants you were want to refer to, per chance , be climate crisis fools?

  14. As a form of solar power that is carbon-neutral, where on the efficiency/yield/dollar curve does this fall? Is it better than a tree in this function, and less polluting? I can’t imagine creating these sponges is carbon neutral, btw, so at best unless they replace conventional energy sources they are carbon-positive.

    I’m willing to pass on this one and the China fund it. Perhaps the UN could take it on and send the bill to China, in fact. In that regard we have a solution looking for a problem and problem looking for a solution finding each other in a happy marriage of green greed, and the UN will finally have started on the path to self-sustenance. With any excesses they can park a sentinel asteroid tug into a Lagrange node and use it to save the world (for a fee, of course).

    Obigatory /sarc

  15. We can load up the CO2 soaked sponges on a rocket, and hurl the whole thing at the sun.
    Get ready for the shreiks to “save our star”.

  16. After reading the last couple of CO2 related inventions here on WUWT this morning the thought that crossed my mind. How much really useful technology is NOT being invented because of all the time, money, resources and brain power that is being willfully diverted to idiotic ‘Climate Change’ projects.

    For the neo-luddites like Obama’s science czar John Holdren and the Club of Rome this is another benefit of CAGW

  17. The idea is not that bad. It depends on the energy required to If it is cheaper to use the concentrated UV sunlight to release the CO2 than burning more fossil fuel to do the release then that is a plus. The question that remains is what do you do with the CO2. How much energy will it take to store it either as a gas or a condensed gas or fluid and where. That is where the hang up is. Of course the over all questions is, Is CO2 a problem? We are back to square one!

  18. The ‘sponge’ which is made from a new smart material called a MOF – metal organic framework Vegetation – adsorbs carbon dioxide, but when exposed to sunlight, instantaneously releases it. in the form of Oxygen and Sugars. Which, Scientists now believe, could, theoretically, form the basis of some wacky ‘outer world’ planetary food chain where ‘plants’ would flourish and the ‘Planetary ‘President’ has five heads such as to give a ‘blow job’ to his top five campaign donors simultaneously

  19. CO2 must be assimilated…

    We are the Green Collective. Open your wallets and surrender your power plants. We will add your financial resources to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.

  20. I like this invention. For serpentization (conversion of CO2 + H2O -> CH4) you need lots of CO2. The usual way to extract this from the atmosphere is using a cryogenic pump and that takes a lot of energy. That apart, once the serpentization process is running it releases enough energy to drive itself. Dr. Hill’s MOF could be the key to limitless low-cost energy.

  21. My suspicion is that carbon sequestration will fall victim to another type of sequestration and die for lack of funds.

  22. Prominent American Scientists Call For Eco-Dictatorship Under UN Rule

    http://explosivereports.com/2013/02/19/prominent-american-scientists-call-for-eco-dictatorship-under-un-rule/

    In a peer-reviewed paper by the American Institute of Biological Sciences titled “Social Norms and Global Environmental Challenges” (available ahead of print), to be published in the march 2013 edition of the Institute’s yearly journal BioScience, a group of well-known scientists calls on government and scientists to start with the planned social engineering of “norms” and “values” in regards to environmental policies. In addition, they propose putting into effect all sorts of environmental fines and regulations in the spirit of Agenda 21 to hasten the social acceptance of increased governmental control. Also, they propose that the scientific community as a whole should align itself with government “through a concerted effort to change personal and social norms”.

    “Substantial numbers of people will have to alter their existing behaviors to address this new class of global environmental problems. Alternative approaches are needed when education and persuasion alone are insufficient. Policy instruments such as penalties, regulations, and incentives may therefore be required to achieve significant behavior modification.”

  23. To the ‘sponge’ researchers, I think the best technology for any given application will be economically determined by the private marketplace in the long run in the USA. If your ‘sponge’ research turns out to be the best for any application, then I congratulate you.

    All ideas and technological research are welcome in the free marketplace for ideas. Most do not make the cut for viable private industrialization processes. That is the norm.

    I am always cautious when the government is centralizing the control of virtually all the research like in the case of climate science and the resulting perceptions of the need for climate mitigation applications. The government funding process will default toward a tendency to be biased toward a politically approved view of science. That is a structural problem.

    I support a significant change in USA’s public and private science funding structure and change in the locus of responsibility in funding decisions.

    John

  24. Found this an interesting presentation on CO2 and climate change over long periods. 99% science, no politics, only a little harping about a nasty letter at the beginning, but it was the set up for the talk. Alley is a pretty straight shooter I’ve found, ultimately his concern is that a huge increase in CO2 ppm (like 1000+) could make a impact over centuries or millenia. He is not a social justice or Malthusian advocate. Anyway, I found it interesting.

    http://www.agu.org/meetings/fm09/lectures/lecture_videos/A23A.shtml

  25. This fortunately has zero chance of being used, and as such has been a total waste of money in applied, as opposed to pure, research terms.

    Aromatic compounds tend to be carcinogens and azides are often explosive. Imagine the outcry about the production and widespread distribution of explosive carcinogens, particularly for use in high temperature places.

  26. The dismissive attitude of some comments here reflect the non inquiring minds of the writers. I acceprt that this research is misguided however alot of clever research is done that doesnt show any immediate commercial application. Its likely the extremly absorbent qualities of the sponge material MOF has got a practical commercial use somewhere. Fertile minds somewhere will find a useful link between this sponge and a commercial application.

  27. Bloke down the pub says: February 21, 2013 at 9:37 am “Could find a use on submarines.”

    No. Submarine CO2 removal technology is 100 years mature, as is the entire atmosphere control suite.

    CO2 is removed by passing breathing air through a large surface area of 2-aminoethanol, a.k.a. monoethanolamine on rasching rings and then driving the CO2 off with heat and pumping the gas indirectly overboard. Hydrogen (from electrolysis of water and lead acid battery gassing) and CO are burned on a high temperature catalyst. Oxygen is electrolyzed from water. Banks of many cubic feet of activated charcoal absorb volatile organics and organics as from venting sanitary tanks discharge overpressure inboard. Electrostatic precipitators remove particles.

    Fresh air smells like freshly cut copper after getting used to breathing air full of huge fuzzy molecules of ‘stuff’.

  28. Could be useful in confined workspaces maybe? Especially if the technology can be adapted to absorb stuff coming off uPVC solvents, flooring adhesives etc. Be interesting to know the scale, eg dimensions of “sponge” to amount absorbed.

  29. “CSIRO scientists have created a ‘solar sponge’ which captures and then releases carbon dioxide using the power of natural sunlight [...] made from a new smart material called a MOF – metal organic framework”.</i.

    Great Ghu, they've invented inorganic trees.

    Not sure how this is an advantage over existing scrubbers which can also be reused by heating the saturated scrubber base.

  30. When I read the description of the function of MOF above, I was immediately reminded of Zeolite technology that is integral to water purification on, again, submarines. The light-water cooled and moderated PWR uses an HOH Zeolite column to maintain water purity.

    When I left cities for my remote rural Island (not like Willis’ remote), I was pleased to find a very generic water conditioning system with a 0.75 cubic foot zeolite resin column, a simple and exposed automated valve manifold and a volume meter to time the regeneration cycles.

    For now, I use NaCl to regenerate my Zeolite, but as soon as KCl becomes economical, then I’ll shift. NaCl is becoming more expensive more rapidly than bulk (40 lbm bags) KCl.

  31. @M. Clark, why not use the aforementioned activated charcoal?

    It is a mature and robust technology. A. C. is regenerated with a hot 250°F stream of Nitrogen, ideally, but air will work for most purposes.

    About scale, I started to comment earlier on one liter absorbed gas per gram, for an STP mole volume of gas being about 22 liters. I wasn’t able to find a convenient measure of the capability of A. C. The active surface area of a gram of A. C. is easily 500 m^2 and effectively 1500 m^2 (http://cgpl.iisc.ernet.in/site/Portals/0/Publications/Presentations/Bio-Energy/Value%20Added%20Products%20From%20Gasification%20%20-%20Activated%20Carbon.pdf)

  32. Don’t you ALL just love the inventive human spirit. hmm

    The promise of capturing C02 from the air is the promise of carbon neutral fuel. How cheap remains to be seen.

    But lets be negative and poop all over anything that mentions global warming. go team!
    that’s the real skeptical spirit. throw that baby out with the bath water!

    here’s another approach. In the end the cost of the device was too high. new materials in the pipeline may solve that. na, lets poop on that too. he said global warming. boo him. we are open minded!

  33. Just like “Tang” . . . must find something to do with the inventions. Must find someway to profit from the patents . . . You’ve heard of “Publish or Perish” well that’s all wrong . . . It’s “Profit or Perish”.

  34. Joe Ryan says: February 21, 2013 at 12:28 pm “And how much energy does it take to create these “MOF”Os?” I think that’s the correct question to ask. What is the pollution committed by the new technology integrated across all industry?

  35. I remember when the CSIRO actually did real science, now It’s just another branch of the globalist elite’s propaganda machine.
    The joy’s of being an Australian tax payer, they’re testing all this crap on us in the same way Macca’s tests their fast food menu.

  36. I still think this would be a good way to transport the CO2 directly to the plants to boost food production. Take from power plant and place in a corn field. CO2 is a limiting factor in corn production, as during the middle of the day CO2 levels at plant height approaches zero. Supplement the CO2 with a bunch of these things and boost production. It makes the greens think they are saving the planet, gives the rest of us the abundant power we need to run the economy (since we can convince the greens that burning fuel actually helps the world), and boosts food production all in one go.

    Now the questions about whether these things can be made without polluting the environment with manufacturing chemical waste is a good question. I am not too concerned with how much energy they take to make as I would envision the things getting reused over and over and over. The idea that you would sequester CO2 in these things is pure hokem – what are they going to do? take them to a salt tunnel and bury them in encased glass to keep the UV off of them!?

  37. My main worry with these CO2 capture devices is that we start to lower the atmospheric concentration to dangerously low levels..

    I know, a LONG time in the future.. so I’m sure that even the most rabidly anti-CO2 fool will by then realise that……………..

    CO2 IS GOOD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT !!!

    beyond 700ppm :-) onward and upward.

  38. “How much energy does it take to create the “MOF”? Probably as much or more than that needed to build solar panels or windmills. And don’t forget the pollution involved.
    And since nobody says we should totally disregard the research, unless a practical application can be found, this should be put on the shelf till a need arises. IMHO.
    @steve mosher, feb 21 12:04pm.: Thanks for your always learned and insightful comment.

  39. This is only partially OT but: Has anyone actually done a study on “optimal'” levels of CO2 on human or mammalian life? I read somewhere that the Russians have higher levels of CO2 on their spacecraft than was tolerated by the US and that it was based on some sort of scientific study but have never been able to track anything down.

  40. Now only if we can produce a dry flue gas under 100F that were 100% pure CO2 and provide enough residence time to permit +13 hrs adsorbent exposure per the experiment we’d approach 64% efficiency. Nice effort but for all practical purposes — back to the drawing board.

  41. “Steven Mosher says:
    February 21, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    “But lets be negative and poop all over anything that mentions global warming. go team!”

    Once again, you add nothing useful to the discussion…just more drive-by snide remarks.

  42. the CSIRO in Australia is another arm of our left wing communist GOV,T .we will be having a new GOV.T later this year and they will put the cleaners through them by by to the carbon tax and the greens

  43. Doug Huffman poo-poos the suggestion that this might have commercial application on submarines. I respectfully disagree. Submarine CO2 removal may be a “mature” technology but that does not mean it can’t be improved. For example, the process Doug describes requires the addition of considerable heat to release the CO2. Fine while your plant is running but not so helpful when you’re in a power emergency. If release by UV is less energy intensive, that theoretically frees up power for other needs.

    Similarly, if this new material is more mass-efficient per volume of CO2 adsorbed, it may have the potential to improve the atmosphere controls in space ships and other secured atmosphere environments. That’s not to say that it IS better – the press release is far too scant on details to know, only that it MAY be better and might be interesting to try. Venture capitalists evaluate new technologies like this all the time. We ought not to prejudge.

    By the way, I see no comments attributed to the authors of the study suggesting that this technology has anything to do with long-term carbon sequestration or climate change. The closest connection is the choice in the illustration to suggest that a smokestack might be a practical application and who knows what PR person made that decision. I’m afraid I have to agree with Steven Mosher on this one. Some of the negative comments here seem to be based on assumptions about the inventors’ motives rather than on the evidence of their reported statements. (If you are basing your opinion on statements other than the few reported above, please cite rather than allowing the rest of us to assume prejudice.)

  44. In the end, whether or not this scheme could work, may be completely irrelevant. One would have to presume that all the calls to stop Global Warming are initiated honestly and by well-intentioned people. There’s plenty of evidence to dispute that, and if so, then a genuine fix would not be desired. Human beings are social creatures and the structures under which we operate become intwined with the living organisms, ourselves, that created them. Global Warming is just such a structure. The proponents are intwined with it. Therefore it must continue to be insoluble. If AGW were genuinely true, a solution would not be desired.

  45. Mike Rossander, and Steve Mosher, think of this as a smaller than usual type of cylinder to store a gas.

    If you wish a gas to spontaneously expel itself from a cylinder when you open the valve, then you will have to do the same amount of work (and more) to put the gas inside the vessel to begin with.

    Conversely, if the gas is initially adsorbed spontaneously, then you will have to supply energy to remove it from the container. There is no free lunch energetically, as per the laws of thermodynamics.

    I can’t access the full paper, and the abstract contained no chemistry and certain critical numbers are not even mentioned on the website.
    A novel, highly expensive CO2-capture material for power stations that costs more than the fuel being burned, is worse than existing technologies, and not needed anyway, hardly makes for a great paper. I maintain my original opinion.

    Now the good bit:
    My honest guess is that this was a valiant, but failed, attempt to produce a container that could be used for HYDROGEN storage. That would be wonderful. It was a clever approach. Maybe it could yet be made to work. But it’s a lot, lot harder than CO2. It makes me sad that it has to be sold as something so much less than what it could be. That is not setting the right example, in my opinion.

  46. “Mike Rossander says:

    February 21, 2013 at 6:18 pm”

    I see a lot of poo-pooing coming from Australians and quite rightly so. The CSIRO was called CSIR back in the days when this Govn’t organisation in 1935 fully supported the Queensland Government’s Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations desire to introduce the cane toad “Bufo marinus” to control beetles in cane sugar plantations. This support was self-serving because CSIR was working on the release of the European toad, Bufo vulgaris, to control pests in pastures. A classic example of “unintended consequenses”.

    While this technology may have uses, maybe someday, we here in Aus would be better off planting trees and controlling bush fire potential if we’re really serious about controlling CO2 emissions.

  47. MOFs are an area of active research over the last 15 years or more, and they have many important applications in catalysis and capture of particular molecules or reactive intermediates. One example is that MOFs have been designed that can increase the storage of natural gas in vehicle fuel tanks to extend the operating range of trucks and buses by a factor of 3-10. The beauty of MOFs and related metal/organic compounds is that they can be designed to capture specific chemical entities. By simple changes in the chemical environment or by applying the right type of photons (UV range in this case), the physical structure of the “cage” changes, and the captured chemical is released.

    The value of this capture/release technology is that it could provide a highly efficient means of capturing CO2 from combustion streams for storage in comparatively small volumes. or releasing it on demand into a biological or chemical process designed to utilize CO2 for beneficial purposes. There is no discussion of economics, but it might be far cheaper to take advantage of such technologies as opposed to economically destructive carbon taxes or crackpot energy generation schemes being proposed as replacements for our current energy sources.

  48. michael hart says:
    February 21, 2013 at 8:20 pm
    “My honest guess . . . failed . . . used for HYDROGEN storage.

    An interesting idea but it reminded me of the red light and sign used at a darkroom’s door while developing negatives and prints, namely. DO NOT OPEN! There might be a problem with a package containing Hydrogen that self-releases when exposed to light. Ought to add, I suppose, that the sneaky stuff would likely get out on its own.

  49. Time zones make it tough to be ahead of WUWT bloggers with innovative uses for material like this. The new uses that first come to mind have been mentioned. Some more?
    1. Sell to dentists who use UV to set polymers for teeth fillings, so that the fillings come with cavities ready made for future income.
    2. Sell to owners of UV tanning solariums now closed by law because of cancer risk, so they can keep their lights doing something.
    3. Export to countries where CO2 emissions can be converted into carbon credit indulgences.
    4. Drop to the ocean depths where there is no UV and no chance to release the CO2 this way, thus avoiding rumoured acidification.
    5. Leave out the CO2, hit the structure with music-connected UV light so that it bends. View it on plasma screen while exercising in leotards.

    Nah. This is not fun. There are already exciting prospects for MOF inventions, just as shape-memory alloys were the go for a while. Give the guys and gals at CSIRO a break – there are some fine researchers there. Don’t try to confine imaginations, let them blossom. Some wonderful innovations have grown this way.

    But please, don’t keep linking everything with bloody global warming. One day someone will calculate how much invention the global warming costs took from other fields and we might live to regret the waste. Whomever wrote the press release, please take note and discuss relevant possibilities.

  50. How often would those sponges have to be replaced because they are full if installed {in, on top, near} the smoke-stack? Every {hour, minute}?

  51. So the Aussies have spent millions on something nature sorted hundreds of millions of years ago. They should learn to catch up.

  52. Mosher – over unity systems are impossible as are unity systems. If you don’t care what it costs you can produce energy from ash. You just can’t produce affordable energy from ash. That is what these people are trying to do. There is a reason we spend trillions developing fracking and deep sea oil recovery technologies while ignoring bottom ash heaps. These schemes to do so exist only because there is government money available. If government money were limited to 70% matching funds these crazy ideas would fade away. The authors know they’re best at generating grant money and least effective at generating profit and energy.

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