New material design tops carbon-capture from wet flue gases

Industrial smokestacks, Germany; photo Jeffrey Reimer Industrial smokestacks, Germany; photo Jeffrey Reimer

In new research reported in Nature (Nature 576, 253–256 (2019)), an international team of chemical engineers have designed a material that can capture carbon dioxide from wet flue gasses better than current commercial materials.

One way to ameliorate the polluting impact of flue gases is to take the CO2 out of them and store it in geological formations or recycle it. In a strange twist of nature – or design chemistry – materials that are good at capturing CO2 have proven to be even better at capturing water, which renders them of little use with wet flue gasses. It seems that in most of these materials, CO2 and water compete for the same adsorption sites – the areas in the material’s structure that actually capture the target molecule.

Now, a team of scientists led by Berend Smit (EPFL Valais Wallis and an adjunct professor at UC Berkeley) and Jeffrey Reimer, CBE Chair and faculty member, utilized drug discovery tools to design a new material that prevents this competition, is not affected by water, and can capture CO2 out of wet flue gases more efficiently than even commercial materials.