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Capture of CO2 from Ambient Air: A Specific Approach

Categories: Chemistry and Chemical Biology (CCB)
Speaker: Klaus Lackner, Ewing-Worzel Professor of Geophysics in the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering, Columbia University.
Date & Time: February 25, 2009 - 4:30pm
Location: Chem. 260 (Wright-Rieman Labs (WL)

Reception to follow the talk.


We describe a technology for capturing CO2 directly from ambient air (air capture) at collection rates that far exceed those of trees or other photosynthesizing organisms and at costs that would allow the widespread use of air capture in managing the anthropogenic carbon cycle and combating climate change. The specific technology uses anionic exchange resins in a sorbent swing between a carbonate and bicarbonate form. Once the resin is saturated with CO2, the gas is driven off the resin by exposure to moisture. This humidity swing allows for an extremely energy efficient implementation of carbon dioxide capture. Air capture becomes the CO2 capture of last resort. It can compensate for all those emissions that otherwise would accumulate in the atmosphere by removing a net amount of CO2 from the air that matches a specific emission at a different location and time. At a large scale, air capture can reduce the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere and undo the current excursion in greenhouse gas concentrations much faster than natural processes. Finally, the capture of CO2 enables the closure of the carbon cycle by recapturing CO2 and making it the chemical feedstock that provides carbon for fuel synthesis. The other inputs are water, which provides hydrogen, and energy from a source that is carbon-free.


Klaus S. Lackner joined the faculty of Columbia University in 2001, where he is the Ewing-Worzel Professor of Geophysics in the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering, and a member of the Earth Institute. He is the Director of the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy and the Chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Klaus Lackner’s scientific career started in the phenomenology of weakly interacting particles. Later, searching for quarks, he and George Zweig developed the chemistry of atoms with fractional nuclear charge, and a more recent participation in matter searches for particles with a non-integer charge in experiments conducted at Stanford by Martin Perl and his group. After joining Los Alamos National Laboratory, Lackner became involved in hydrodynamic work and fusion-related research. He has published on the behavior of high explosives, novel approaches to inertial confinement fusion, and numerical algorithms. His interest in self-replicating machine systems has been recognized by Discover Magazine as one of seven ideas that could change the world. Currently he is developing innovative approaches to energy issues of the future. He has been instrumental in forming the Zero Emission Coal Alliance, an industry led group that defined the zero emission concept. His recent work is on environmentally acceptable technologies for the use of fossil fuels. Research topics focus on carbon management, specifically the capture of carbon dioxide in power plants, and also directly from the atmosphere. Research at Columbia University is focused on mineral sequestration, zero emission coal plants, carbon electrochemistry and the study of large scale energy infrastructures. Klaus Lackner received his Ph.D. in 1978 in theoretical physics from the University of Heidelberg, and held postdoctoral positions at the California Institute of Technology and the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center before joining Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1983.

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