As the climate crisis worsens, there is an increasingly urgent need to not only make significant changes to our societies and economies but to innovate and create new solutions to curb emissions such as carbon dioxide (CO2). That’s exactly what GE is seeking to do in a new DOE-backed research project—called AIR2CO2 Contactor—in partnership with UC Berkeley and the University of South Alabama. Together, the partners are using 3D printing to develop a system for capturing CO2 from the air.
To span two years, the AIR2CO2 research project is being led by a team from GE Research as well as chemists and engineers from the two partner universities. The U.S. Department of Energy has put up $1.5 million for the project, while GE and its partners are providing $500,000 for a total of $2 million. The aim of the project is to develop a technology capable of capturing CO2 emissions directly from the air using a combination of heat exchanger technology and sorbent materials.
Interestingly, the team is also working on a research project that will use a similar technology to extract water from the air to provide potable water for soldiers and troops in the field. This project, called AIR2WATER, is being undertaken in collaboration with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and also relies on a combination of heat exchange and advanced materials.
“We’re combining GE’s extensive knowledge in materials, thermal management and 3D printing technologies with UC Berkeley’s world-class expertise in sorbent materials development and the University of South Alabama’s and sorption modeling and testing to design a novel system for removing carbon dioxide from the air,” explained David Moore, the Principal Investigator and Technology Manager for Material Physics and Chemistry at GE Research. “Through this project, we’re aiming to demonstrate the feasibility of a system that could become a future large-scale, economical solution for widespread decarbonization of the energy sector.”
Specifically, GE Research will leverage its extensive knowledge of power turbine and jet engine systems—which require sophisticated heat exchange systems—to develop the CO2-capturing technology. Notably, the company will also use metal additive manufacturing in the design and development of a novel heat exchange structure. UC Berkeley’s research team, for its part, will bring to the table its unique knowledge of sorbent materials, which are capable of extracting elements from the air around us. This team is led by Omar Yaghi, a renowned Professor of Chemistry.
“Since the first crystallization and proof of porosity of metal-organic frameworks in 1995 and 1998, respectively, we have been continually developing their chemistry and design on the atomic/molecular scale,” Yaghi elaborated. “Teaming with GE on applying these materials in carbon dioxide capture is therefore a timely and most fortunate collaboration to address one of the most pressing problems facing our planet.”
Led by Professor Grant Glover, the team from the University of South Alabama will play a critical role in choosing the materials for the heat exchange system, with a particular focus on MOFs. As he explains: “Metal Organic Frameworks (MOFs) provide an exciting opportunity to design materials to separate gases. With the opportunity to pair these insights with the GE team that has expertise in manufacturing and product development, the possibilities of what we can bring to CO2 capture are quite exciting.”
The AIR2CO2 research project, which is part of GE’s broader mission to achieve a zero carbon energy future, was one of four recently announced projects to receive funding from the DOE for air capture technology.