Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found a way to remove methane from the air using an inexpensive type of clay called zeolite, a mineral also found in cat litter.
In a study published in the journal ACS Environment Au, the the researchers packed copper-treated zeolite particles into a reaction tube, which they heated from the outside, according to an MIT statement. They then pushed streams of gas with varying levels of methane through the tube. When treated with copper, they found that zeolite converts methane to carbon dioxide, even at low concentrations.
“When people hear that [the process creates CO2]they say, ‘Yuck, that’s not good, I know CO2 is bad for the environment,'” said Desiree Plata, an MIT engineering professor and one of the paper’s authors. fast businessthis is Adele Peters. “But it turns out that methane is actually much worse, from a global warming perspective. What it allows us to do is bring immediate climate benefits to the Earth system and actually change the rates of global warming in our lifetime.
Methane is 120 times more potent at warming the planet than carbon dioxide on a per-mass basis, the authors write. The colorless and odorless gas can come from a variety of sources: slash and burn agriculture, dairy farming, coal and ore mining, wetlands, melting permafrost, drilling and fracking for oil and natural gas.
“Pushing air through kitty litter isn’t easy,” says Plata fast business. “You can imagine all the technical challenges that would come with that – blowing powder and then heating it up is also a challenge. So one of the things we have to do is structure the catalyst in such a way that a lot of air can pass fairly quickly, while still giving you a good reaction.
Plata imagines installing zeolite-based filters in places like mine shafts or inland dairy farms, where the methane is concentrated, but not to the point where burning it by flaring is an option, she says. Wiredit’s Gregory Barbier. One of the advantages of this system, which has not yet been tested in the field, is that it gives off heat, which could potentially be used to generate electricity.
“In the coal mines, you could potentially generate enough heat to produce power plant-scale electricity, which is remarkable because it means the device could be self-funding,” Plata says in the communicated. “Most air capture solutions are very expensive and would never pay for themselves. Our technology may one day be a counter-example.
But time is running out fast for new climate solutions. A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are needed to avert climate catastrophe by 2025.
“It works. I’ll say that. We can convert low levels of methane,” says Plata Wired. “The question is how fast you can make it work.”