Smart membranes the key to capturing carbon

By SHEETAL SINGH

Innovative new membrane materials could reduce carbon emissions and help Australia meet emissions targets, says an expert in climate change mitigation.

Dr Colin Scholes, senior lecturer in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Melbourne, said capturing and storing carbon emissions was crucial for a carbon-neutral future.

Speaking at a recent lecture organised by the Victorian Branch of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, Dr Scholes said new technology was required to meet Australia’s commitment to reduce emissions by 26-28 per cent on the 2005 level by 2030.

Dr Colin Scholes

“We need every single strategy we have to reduce our CO2 emissions for the level we need to get,” Dr Scholes said.

Dr Scholes said a single strategy would not be enough to reduce emissions and carbon dioxide had to be captured before it was released into the atmosphere.

This would include separating carbon dioxide from other gases in the emissions of coal-fired power stations, aluminium smelters and other major sources of greenhouse gases, he said. One approach would be to use a film membrane that carbon dioxide could pass through and be redirected for storage.

“Membrane films are special plastics that are tailored so carbon dioxide passes through them like they didn’t exist, but all other gases, such as oxygen and nitrogen, experience them as a barrier,” Dr Scholes said.

Dr Scholes said storing carbon in oil fields was a suitable option because the underground pressure would convert the waste gas into calcite in the long term.

“The only place to store it is underground. This is known as geological storage,” he said.

“We have taken CO2 gas out of the environment, buried it underground and over hundreds of years it will react and never come back to the surface. It is a long term storage for CO2.”

Carbon dioxide capture and storage. Source: Colin Scholes

Dr Scholes said changing human behavior to reduce impacts of climate change will be a lengthy process and carbon capture technology is still required.

“We have only got 12 years to hit that [Paris] target so probably we are going to need desperate measures,” he said.

“Either way, we will need to pay to go carbon neutral to limit climate change or to change our infrastructure and society to handle the change in climate.”