In research conducted at the U of C, Keith and a team of researchers showed it is possible to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) – the main greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming – using a relatively simple machine that can capture the trace amount of CO2 present in the air at any place on the planet.
"At first thought, capturing CO2 from the air where it's at a concentration of 0.04 per cent seems absurd, when we are just starting to do cost-effective capture at power plants where CO2 produced is at a concentration of more than 10 per cent," says Keith, Canada Research Chair in Energy and Environment.
"But the thermodynamics suggests that air capture might only be a bit harder than capturing CO2 from power plants. We are trying to turn that theory into engineering reality."
The research is significant because air capture technology is the only way to capture CO2 emissions from transportation sources such as vehicles and airplanes. These so-called diffuse sources represent more than half of the greenhouse gases emitted on Earth.
"The climate problem is too big to solve easily with the tools we have," notes Keith, director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy's (ISEEE) Energy and Environmental Systems Group and a professor of chemical and petroleum engineering.
"David Keith and his team have developed a number of innovative ways to achieve the efficient capture of atmospheric carbon. That is a major step in advancing air capture as a solution to a very pressing problem," Layzell says.
Air capture is different than the carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology which is a key part of the Alberta and federal governments' strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. CCS involves installing equipment at, for example, a coal-fired power plant to capture carbon dioxide produced during burning of the coal, and then pipelining this CO2 for permanent storage underground in a geological reservoir.
Air capture, on the other hand, uses technology that can capture – no matter where the capture system is located – the CO2 that is present in ambient air everywhere.
Nevertheless, the relatively simple, reliable and scalable technology that Keith and his team developed opens the door to building a commercial-scale plant.
Technical details of the air capture technology are available at: http://www.ucalgary.ca/~keith/AirCapture.html