Here is the best news possible for climate change until the cessation of fossil fuel use, a new discovery that captures carbon dioxide before it enters the atmosphere. The announcement was published in March 2013 Nature journal.
The substance is called SIFSIX-1-Cu. There are other materials for carbon capture, but unlike those, this one works in water vapor, is more efficient, cheaper and reusable. It controls pore functionality and size in some Metal-Organic materials, enabling a 'sweet spot' of kinetics and thermodynamics. This allows high volumes of carbon dioxide uptake at low partial pressure, selected over nitrogen gas (N2), hydrogen (H2), and methane (CH4), even in moisture.
Where could it produce significant results? The research group suggests it will capture carbon from coal-burning plants, purify methane in natural gas wells, and advance clean-coal technology, all helping to control carbon for cleaner air.
Carbon dioxide is an impurity in natural gas, biogas, syngas (CO/H2) which is the main hydrogen source in refineries, and other gas streams. About fifteen percent of the cost of producing energy globally is from separating and purifying industrial commodities, whose demand is projected to triple by 2050.
It takes supercomputers with more RAM memory than 1,000 new iPads, over a terabyte, to predict molecule behavior. Initially Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center’s Blacklight, the world's largest “shared memory” computer, simulated the behavior of a small number of molecules of SIFSIX-1-Cu with each other and the gasses. Then other supercomputers in National Science Foundation’s XSEDE network, Texas Advanced Computing Center's Ranger and San Diego Supercomputer Center's Trestles simulated Blacklight's results in bulk.
The chemical name of the crystal is hexafluorosilicate. Its atoms make a three-dimensional lattice, where molecules of carbon dioxide are caught in the lattice holes while other air molecules pass through. The SIFSIX-1-CU name comes from the chemical component with the special properties of a material that originated over fifteen years ago. It is part of the Metal-Organic Materials (MOMs), built by combining organic and inorganic chemical building blocks, in this case to make porous SIFSIX.
It all began with University of South Florida undergrad student Stephen Burd's research project and has taken several years. Burd has since become a chemistry grad student, working on the project with other USF chemists and the international research group in Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST).
Collaboration with engineers must now determine how to manufacture the materials and implement them in the real-world. Watch USF chemist Brian Space's short animation of how carbon atoms are captured by the MOM framework.