New method for scrubbing CO2 out of the air

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Researchers have devised a new much more efficient technique for removing carbon dioxide from the smoke of power plants.

The memzyme meets the Department of Energy’s standards by capturing 90 percent of power plant carbon dioxide production at a relatively low cost of $40 per ton. Researchers term the membrane a “memzyme” because it acts like a filter but is near-saturated with an enzyme, carbonic anhydrase, developed by living cells over millions of years to help rid themselves of carbon dioxide efficiently and rapidly.

“To date, stripping carbon dioxide from smoke has been prohibitively expensive using the thick, solid, polymer membranes currently available,” says Jeff Brinker, a Sandia fellow, University of New Mexico regents’ professor and the paper’s lead author. “Our inexpensive method follows nature’s lead in our use of a water-based membrane only 18 nanometers thick that incorporates natural enzymes to capture 90 percent of carbon dioxide released. (A nanometer is about 1/700 of the diameter of a human hair.) This is almost 70 percent better than current commercial methods, and it’s done at a fraction of the cost.”

The article also notes at the end that this technology could also be adapted to scrubbing CO2 from spacecraft atmospheres.

Hat tip to reader MarcusZ1967.


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  • I wonder if it could be made to work on vehicles. I’m guessing not because, in the diagram, it appears that CO2 is scrubbed as a gas and so there would need to be an additional chemical process to convert it into something else like a solid.

  • Localfluff

    CO2 in the atmosphere is good. We need more of it. Plants are starved of it. The oil industry is feeding life on Earth. That which is just waste from our energy production, is fertilizing all life. Scrubbing CO2 out of the atmosphere would be a murderous Hell machine. I don’t understand why anyone wants to work on such an ambition.

  • Localfluff: I do agree with you about scrubbing CO2 out of the atmosphere. From my research I have found few documented negative consequences for increased CO2, and many documented advantages. More robust agriculture, as you mention, is just one.

    However, this story is exciting in the context of future space exploration. They might have found an easy way to recycle the CO2 in large spaceships, which is a serious problem.

  • Localfluff

    Oh yeah, Mars is the market for this! Mining stuff in space is hard, but Mars’ atmosphere makes it easy enough. Carbon and oxygen are the most common elements in the universe, besides single protons and non-reactive helium. And they have the greatest properties in combinatorics and energy transfers. And all of that is floating around in the thin air of Mars. What a wonderful gift!

    I think, and I’m crazy, but I think that Mars will be terraformed into a giant biological computer. Seeded with bio engineering that transforms its atmosphere to a global chip on the surface. Scifi talks about terraforming Mars so that we apes could walk there as if it were our Paradise garden given to us by God. That won’t happen. It only ever happened in our fantasy, if one reads the Genesis. But life on Earth will for sure take care of any useful material on Mars, and its CO2 atmosphere is the easiest cherry to pick. We eat everything, you can trust that. The discovery of alien life would be a great revolution for gastronomy. Do they taste better cooked, fried or raw? And what wine to pick…

  • phil veerkamp

    ” . . . from the smoke of power planets.”

    ~ ~ ~ My night to nitpick, Bob ~ ~ ~

  • MarcusZ1967

    That is the first thing I thought of when I saw the headline.
    Further reading….

  • Phill O

    This planet has a very efficient process for scrubbing CO2 from the atmosphere already. H2) + CO2 > H2CO3

    As you note BZ, there are advantages of CO2 in the atmosphere. What has not been discussed is a reduction in O2 that should accompany rises in CO2 from burning the carbon reserves. It does not exist which gives rise to an argument that any CO2 rise might not be from the burning process.

    The biggest thing about the CO2 debate is the increased research funding it provides as well as the increased revenue for environmentalists like David Suzuki.

    The greatest advantage of this membrane will be in space flight. However, we will all pay the extra unneeded costs to put it on power plants and autos.

  • Max

    Interesting, a patented method of removing carbon dioxide which mimics nature. Almost.
    I know from past debate, that the sequestration of CO2 would consume 1/5 of the power that the Power plants create to compress and liquefy the exhaust gases. And then what? Pump the CO2 into used oil wells thinking that it’s a permanent storage facility?

    “The separation process could increase the amount of fuel obtained by enhanced oil recovery using carbon dioxide injected into existing reservoirs.”
    “The CO2 Memzyme produces 99 percent pure CO2, which can be used in many industries. For example, U.S. oil companies buy 30 million tons of pure CO2 for enhanced oil recovery. The CO2 could be fed to algae in biofuel production, used in the chemical industry or even used to carbonate beverages.”
    (I’m not so sure I would want to drink beverages from this process.)

    Liquid CO2 is useful, like dry cleaners solvent, to dissolve heavier oil’s deep underground revitalizing the oil deposits. Nearby wells will pump the oil out, releasing the CO2 into the air. A very expensive process unless you can get someone else to pay for it.
    After reading the article with related links provided on the website, I have Cherry picked what stood out to me.

    “The bacterium—Thiomicrospira crunogena—produces carbonic anhydrase, an enzyme that helps remove carbon dioxide in organisms.”
    “So what makes the deep-sea bacterium so attractive? It lives near hydrothermal vents, so the enzyme it produces is accustomed to high temperatures. That’s exactly what’s needed for the enzyme to work during the process of reducing industrial carbon dioxide.”
    “The enzyme can be produced in a laboratory using a genetically engineered version of the common E. coli bacteria.
    That’s just one of the challenges researchers face before the enzyme could be put to use against carbon dioxide in real-world settings. While it has good heat tolerance, the enzyme studied by McKenna’s team isn’t particularly efficient.”
    “The enzyme can catalyze the dissolution of a million carbon dioxide molecules per second.
    Current commercial technologies to capture these emissions use vats of expensive, amine-based liquids to absorb CO2. This method consumes about one third of the energy the plant generates and requires large, high-pressure facilities. About 35 atm, over 500 psi.”

    Let’s review, they are genetically engineering rapidly reproducing E. coli bacteria (deadly) with a difficult to kill Thermophile bacteria… To capture and sequester the fundamental building block of all carbon life on this planet?
    Or to create a deadly drug resistant pathogen to kill all animal life on earth, if it escapes the processing plant? I certainly would not want this on a space station.(although it would, in theory, work well to terraform a CO2 atmosphere like Venus)

    CO2, from deep water ocean vents, is compressed into a liquid, which is heavier than water, and is suspended as it moves with the ocean currents. Carbonic acid, natural ocean acidification. I wonder if a “cause & affect” study has ever been done. does it kill the ocean life? Or does it fertilize and enhance the environment, feeding the plankton which feeds the ocean? Or does the carbonic acid get neutralized by the calcium in the water forming calcium carbonate or limestone. A almost permanent sequestration of CO2.
    Limestone makes up 10% of the earths surface. When hydrogen sulfide (acid rain) dissolves limestone, it releases CO2 back into the air. Other than the sun, and volcanoes, this is a very large source of fresh slow release carbon.

  • Andrew_W

    Phill O
    April 13, 2018 at 6:36 am
    “This planet has a very efficient process for scrubbing CO2 from the atmosphere already. H2) + CO2 > H2CO3

    As you note BZ, there are advantages of CO2 in the atmosphere. What has not been discussed is a reduction in O2 that should accompany rises in CO2 from burning the carbon reserves. It does not exist which gives rise to an argument that any CO2 rise might not be from the burning process.”

    The claim that a reduction in atmospheric O2 levels does not exist is wrong, the reduction has been detected and measured.

  • Andrew_W

    As Doug points out, for this technology to be useful to reduce CO2 emission some economic method of storage needs to be found.

  • Phill O

    Andrew_W I would argue you on this point. But not on this site.

  • pzatchok

    If we can’t figure out what to do with the CO2 this scrubs out of the air in a space ship it will not have solved anything.

    Throwing it away is not a good answer. Mass is a resource and expensive and should never be just thrown away.

  • Localfluff

    CO2 belongs in the atmosphere. We have too little of it. Plants need more of it, they immediately grow much faster with more CO2. Removing CO2 from the atmosphere, and even not recycling the fossil carbon to CO2, would be lethal to Earth. The oil industry is the best thing that has happened to nature since the agricultural revolution. Wild life everywhere is thriving thanks to human CO2-emissions. Leftists are obsessed with being wrong about everything. Do you remember how they used to plant trees in Sahara to stop the expansion of the desert? That was a disaster. The trees’ roots sucked up the water from the ground and vaporized it from the leaves, accelerating desert expansion. But now it has stopped, thanks to the life creating oil industry feeding all wild life with CO2.

  • Max

    I strongly agree, satellites show the earth is getting greener. Plants with more carbon dioxide need less water. Years of green house testing shows plants with more carbon dioxide grow healthier,1/3 larger and produce 1/3 larger yield.
    Whom ever declared a natural element (necessary for all life to exist) a poison/pollution is a enemy to the earth. They should be allowed, along with all their followers, to show their dedication to their crazy belief by placing a plastic bag over their heads to prevent their carbon dioxide from “killing” our planet.
    This action will do more to save our planet then anything else tried. I could not name all of the problems a plastic bag can cure…
    If they refuse, that’s OK. They would be labeled a hypocrite. If they do not repent and continue to cause problems, refuse them the ability to buy gasoline, natural gas, no-fly list, electricity from coal, or any product made with fossil fuel’s. (Food being the exception) Is there a better way to prove or test there unwavering faith? Let them be the example for others to follow. Enough talk, walk the walk!

    Now I feel the need to be constructive. CO2 in a closed environment is a problem, but it can be resolved. The smaller the space, the more temporary the solution.
    The Ideal permanent fix is to use photosynthesis in a greenhouse to remove H4O2 (water), CO2 (carbon dioxide), and produce O2 (oxygen), and carbohydrates (sugars), hydrocarbons (oil)
    A self sustaining cycle that would remove toxins/waste products, while promoting health.
    It’s having enough room in a orbital space station that is the problem.
    There is a process that will convert crude oil into carbohydrates. It does not taste very good. It also has a short shelf life.
    The process may also work on CO2 and water to convert it artificially back into carbohydrates and oxygen. I believe it proved to be too toxic for humans, but bacteria likes it, then we can eat the bacteria. Think of it as a very bad smelling cheese… Very experimental.
    Until They get it figured out, they can scrub the CO2 gas and pump it as a liquid into a spent fuel tank. Save their human waste for future greenhouse, probably built by Bigelow hotels.
    Water and waste can be sterilized by exposing to UV sunlight. (but not too much UV, breaking down elements can create a bomb)

    As pzatchok Said;
    Throwing it away is not a good answer. Mass is a resource and expensive and should never be just thrown away.

  • MarcusZ1967

    The one thing “I” thought “MOST” important is the capabilities of this system WAS the removal of co2 on SPACECRAFT!! Not Earth.

    The article noticed that moisture is important to this also for renewing the water in the micropores, then you can run the residual “air” thru a exterior radiator to condense the remaining h2o.

    ONE article I found on the ISS CO2 removal.
    “Once the filter beds are full, the assembly rotates to vent CO2 and moisture into space.”

    This right here is a waste of resources..

    WOW!! I didn’t get a caPTCHA this time…..

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