HOUSTON -- (Sept. 20, 2011) -- A Rice University research team is one of 16 chosen by the Department of Energy (DOE) to develop innovative new technologies that can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by capturing carbon dioxide from power plants.
Coal- and natural-gas-fired power plants account for about half of the carbon dioxide that humans add to the atmosphere each year. For example, a 500-megawatt coal-fired power plant emits enough carbon dioxide (CO2) each day to fill the Houston Astrodome more than 400 times.
"The sheer quantity of carbon dioxide emitted by power plants represents both a daunting challenge and a terrific opportunity," said Rice graduate student Sumedh Warudkar, a co-investigator on the Rice University team. "It's a difficult technical challenge to capture such a large volume of CO2, but if we can find a feasible way, it could really change things."
George Hirasaki, Warudkar's adviser and the principal investigator on the new DOE grant, said the petrochemical industry has tried-and-true technology for capturing and removing CO2 from high-pressure natural gas. Unfortunately, that technology is costly for separating CO2 from flue gas at normal air pressure. Hirasaki said Rice's team will create new technology that uses similar principles but takes advantage of high-tech materials. The team includes Michael Wong, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and of chemistry and Warudkar's co-adviser; Ed Billups, professor emeritus of chemistry; and Ken Cox, professor in the practice of chemical and biomolecular engineering.
Hirasaki said natural gas producers today use a two-phase chemical process to remove naturally occurring CO2. The natural gas is piped upward through a vertical column while an ammonia-like liquid called amine flows down through the column. The liquid amine captures the CO2 and drains away while the purified natural gas bubbles out of the column. In the second phase
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