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Cooking up a new material for cheaper carbon capture

Professional Engineering

(Credit: Shutterstock)
(Credit: Shutterstock)

Researchers have created a cheap, easy and energy-efficient way to capture carbon dioxide using melamine, an inexpensive polymer that's the main component of Formica.

The process for making the melamine material, described in a paper published this week in the journal Science Advances, could be scaled down to capture emissions for exhaust pipes, or scaled up to be used in smokestacks at factories and power plants. 

The new material uses off-the-shelf melamine powder, which costs about $40 a tonne, as well as formaldehyde and cyanuric acid, which is sometimes added to swimming pools alongside chlorine. 

“We wanted to think about a carbon-capture material that was derived from sources that were really cheap and easy to get. And so we decided to start with melamine,” said Jeffrey Reimer, Professor of the Graduate School in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and one of the corresponding authors of the paper.

The so-called melamine porous network captures carbon dioxide with an efficiency comparable to early results for another relatively recent material for carbon capture, metal organic frameworks, or MOFs. UC Berkeley chemists created the first such carbon-capture MOF in 2015, and subsequent versions have proved even more efficient at removing carbon dioxide from flue gases, such as those from a coal-fired power plant.

But melamine-based materials could be much cheaper and more energy efficient than MOFs, according to Haiyan Mao, lead author of the paper. “In this study, we focused on cheaper material design for capture and storage and elucidating the interaction mechanism between CO2 and the material,” Mao said. “This work creates a general industrialisation method towards sustainable CO2 capture using porous networks. We hope we can design a future attachment for capturing car exhaust gas, or maybe an attachment to a building or even a coating on the surface of furniture.”

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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