If you think about climate change-fighting technology, the first thing that comes to mind is futuristic vehicles or shiny solar panels. Some of the most crucial pieces of eco-friendly tech can be overlooked.
The biggest problem is how to deal with all the carbon dioxide released by fossil fuel plants. There have been many ideas about how to sequester and capture carbon dioxide from the air as well as from energy production. However, there are mixed reviews. A new idea is that the solution could be as simple and straightforward as a piece of cotton cloth.
North Carolina State University's Sonja Salmon and Jialong Shen created a fabric that can capture and absorb carbon dioxide emissions using a cotton textile and an enzyme called Carbonic Anhydrase. This enzyme is found in the human body. Their findings were published in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemical Engineering this month.
The material is wrapped in a roll and then placed inside a tube. It is almost like using wet paper towels inside a glass funnel. The carbonic anhydrase converts carbon dioxide and water to bicarbonate as the gas leftover from fossil fuel combustion seeps into the bottom. The funnel then releases a mixture of bicarbonate and water, which can be used to make more energy or react with calcium to create limestone.
The material could capture 52.3 percent of carbon dioxide using a single filter and 81.7% with a dual layer. This was achieved when the contraption was being pushed through at four liters per hour. Researchers still found a high level performance even after five washes and five reusings of the fabric.
Although some carbon capture techniques may use rarer materials or more complicated methods, the process for making cotton fabric is as old as time. We already make and use a lot of cotton fabric, for both clothes and industrial purposes. This means that the supply chain to create these filters is more or less already in place.
Shen, a postdoctoral researcher in textiles, says that the production rate is not a bottleneck. That's the main advantage over other types of materials. There have been many people working to make carbon capture material at a large scale. For textile-based materials, we can use existing textile manufacturing facilities to create new applications and leverage them.
The only way to remove carbon from the atmosphere is to reduce the use of fossil fuels. We also need to change how we consume energy to prevent the worst climate scenarios. Salmon says that as carbon emissions increase, it is more important to consider all possible technologies. These simple solutions could help us make progress on protecting the planet, while we concentrate on more complex ones.
"We need energy. Our cell phones are our best friend. Everyone loves driving their cars. She says that everyone loves hot showers. "Unless we are all ready to give up on our hot showers immediately. This is what we have to do. This is a situation where all technologies must be used. We can't rely on one technology to save us. They all have to be done."