Land unsuitable for tree planting could still be used to reduce levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere thanks to new research.
Microscopic tubes that suck in carbon dioxide from the air are being developed by chemists, engineers and medical researchers at the University of Edinburgh, with funding from the RCUK Energy Programme, led by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
Just one 1m2 unit containing the tiny tubes could adsorb (suck in) the same amount of carbon as 10 average trees.
In the future larger versions of the units could be placed alongside places like motorways or on rooftops to make better use of land and spaces in reducing our carbon footprint.
If the technical hurdles are successfully overcome, a patentable unit could be developed and available for purchase within five years.
Each individual tube will be around 1 micrometre long and just 1 nanometre in diameter (1 micrometre is 1 millionth of a metre, 1 nanometre is 1 billionth of a metre). They will be made of pure carbon with some additional chemical groups that will attract and trap the carbon dioxide.
Once saturated with carbon 'used' tubes will be regenerated by a rapid heat pulse generated from a renewable energy source, such as a solar cell, and the carbon dioxide will be concentrated and stored in small canisters. These canisters may be exchanged periodically for fresh ones as part of a regular collection round.
"The tube material will be specially designed at the nanoscale to be highly porous, in order to adsorb as much carbon dioxide as possible," says Professor Eleanor Campbell, who is leading the project. "A key task is to engineer the chemistry of the tubes so that they only adsorb carbon dioxide without taking water vapour, for instance, out of the air as well."
The filled carbon dioxide canisters could be transported to a special facility where the carbon can be collected prior t
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Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council