In the Lab: CO2 Filters Inspired by Your Lungs

lungs1.jpgWith over a third of the world’s CO2 coming from energy production, innovations that promise to clean up that process are a breath of fresh air. So it’s fitting that a team of researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim have patented a new membrane technology that separates out CO2 from emissions — by mimicking human lungs. The process is known as “facilitated transport.” The team has developed a fixed agent within the membrane that combines the CO2 with moisture to form a new molecule, explains Professor May-Britt Hägg in the article, which passes easily through the membrane while all the other gases are retained.

Isolating CO2 is nothing new, but the invention by the Norwegian group, who call themselves Memfo, potentially represents a significant environmental improvement to the process. Traditional methods of separating out CO2 use heavy doses of chemicals and can be quite expensive, whereas the Norwegian group’s new membrane uses nanotechnology instead of chemicals and can potentially be mass-produced cheaply. And since the membranes are made of plastic that has been nanostructured, not only is it durable and long-lasting, but the process itself is eco-friendly.

Memfo has joined a consortium of 26 European businesses working on a project with the less-than-catchy moniker NanoGloWa – Nanostructured Membranes against Global Warming. NanoGloWa has so far received 13 million euros ($18.5 million) in funding the develop the membranes. Professor Hägg says the group plans to test its new membrane technology at four major European power plants over the next five years, and she believes it will result in a major breakthrough for energy-efficient CO2 membranes. Until we wean ourselves off of King Coal, next-generation CO2 filters could be essential in giving us a little breathing room.

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