Chemically Capturing Carbon

Researchers team investigates new method to remove CO2 from air in fight against climate change

Case Western Reserve chemical engineer Burcu Gurkan, PhD, has looked to the heavens—and, recently, Earth—to find ways to better capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air.

The Nord Distinguished Associate Professor has been testing new methods for removing CO2 from inside spacecraft, recycling air so astronauts can breathe better. Now, with a $3.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, she is leading a multi-institution effort to investigate a novel method to reduce CO2—the main greenhouse gas driving climate change.

Headshot of Burcu Gurkan
Burcu Gurkan

While the United States and other governments have mainly focused on reducing carbon emissions to lower atmospheric CO2, they also seek solutions to remove existing carbon from the air—and that’s where Gurkan’s work fits in.

The project researchers—all women—from four universities and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, are developing both highly selective materials to capture the carbon dioxide from air and an energy-efficient way to release it for underground storage or other uses. That way, the materials could be reused, reducing the financial and environmental costs.

Currently, fossil-fuel-burning power plants use gas-absorbing liquids to capture the CO2. But that requires additional fossil-fuel energy to apply heat to release the carbon dioxide—which defies the goal of carbon-free energy generation, Gurkan said.

Her team is proposing instead to use microwave radiation—powered by solar or wind sources—to release the absorbed CO2. She said the capturing material the team is developing could then be reused.

“We think our research can have a significant impact on a global issue,” Gurkan said.

— Mike Scott