Berkeley scientists develop cheap and easy carbon capture and storage process

It all has to do with an inexpensive polymer called melamine.
Loukia Papadopoulos
A carbon capture and storage facility..jpg
A carbon capture and storage facility.martin_33/IStock
  • The material could be used to capture emissions from vehicle exhaust.
  • It is easy to source and energy-efficient.
  • It works better than metal-organic frameworks.

Capturing carbon dioxide from smokestacks is a key goal for the United States and other nations as they constantly seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Now, Berkeley scientists have used an inexpensive polymer called melamine to engineer a cheap, easy, and energy-efficient way to do just that.

A versatile process with many applications

The process is so versatile that the researchers state it could even potentially be scaled down to capture emissions from vehicle exhaust or other movable sources of carbon dioxide. Best of all, the new material is simple to source and make.

“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 in a statement 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 new melamine porous network is so efficient that it captures carbon dioxide as well as metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) but uses much cheaper ingredients that are easier to make and are more energy efficient.

Cheaper but more efficient materials

“In this study, we focused on cheaper material design for capture and storage and elucidating the interaction mechanism between CO2 and the material,” Haiyan Mao, a UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellow who is the first author of the paper, said. “This work creates a general industrialization 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.”

Further research revealed that adding cyanuric acid during the polymerization reaction of the new material increased the pore size dramatically and radically improved CO2 capture efficiency: Subsequent tests showed that nearly all the carbon dioxide in a simulated flue gas mixture was absorbed within about 3 minutes when using this technique.

“What Haiyan and her colleagues were able to show with these elegant techniques is exactly how these groups intermingle, exactly how CO2 reacts with them, and that in the presence of this pore-opening cyanuric acid, she’s able to cycle CO2 on and off many times with capacity that’s really quite good,” Reimer said. “And the rate at which CO2 adsorbs is quite rapid, relative to some other materials. So, all the practical aspects at the laboratory scale of this material for CO2 capture have been met, and it’s just incredibly cheap and easy to make.”

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“Utilizing solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance techniques, we systematically elucidated in unprecedented, atomic-level detail the mechanism of the reaction of the amorphous networks with CO2,” Mao said. “For the energy and environmental community, this work creates a high-performance, solid-state network family together with a thorough understanding of the mechanisms, but also encourages the evolution of porous materials research from trial-and-error methods to rational, step-by-step, atomic-level modulation.”