Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Trees made in lab to capture CO2 faster

The thought of an artificial tree usually excites memories of building and ornamenting a Christmas centerpiece. But here’s an innovation that will put those plastic branches to shame: scientists at Columbia University are developing a structure that can capture carbon 1,000 times faster than a real tree.

Klaus Lackner, a professor of geophysics at the university, has been working on the project since 1998, according to a CNN report, and is optimistic about a near-future application. Modern improvements in coal-fired power plants have reduced carbon emissions, but Lackner is seeking a different function. The “tree” would be used to trap carbon that has already been emitted into the air by car gasoline or airplane fuel, CNN reports.
Unlike the real thing, the synthetic “tree” doesn’t need direct sunlight, water, a trunk, or branches to function, as it looks more like a cylinder than a soaring Redwood. The concept, which Lackner says is flexible in size and can be placed nearly anywhere, works by collecting carbon dioxide on a sorbent, cleaning and pressurizing the gas, and releasing it. Similar to the way a sponge collects water, the sorbent would collect carbon dioxide. Resin filters on top would capture CO2 from the ambient air. The CO2 is then removed at the bottom using a series of moisture and compression steps, according to one of the concept’s developers.

Each synthetic tree would absorb one ton of carbon dioxide per day, eliminating an amount of gas equivalent to that produced by 20 cars. Lackner is also co-founder and chairman of Tuscon, Arizonabased Global Research Technologies, which is working on the technology. Although the prospect of this is exciting, manufacturing the structures would be expensive, as each unit would reportedly cost about $30,000 to make.

Nonetheless, Lackner and his team are pushing the project full-force. CNN says he has already met with US energy secretary Steven Chu to discuss the concept, which Lackner says will have a prototype within three years. He is also writing a proposal for the Department of Energy in a continuous effort to raise attention for a concept, which he says is several hundred times more effective than the traditional windmill.

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