How an ingredient found in cat litter could help fight climate change

While some startups start to drag CO2 from the air, researchers at MIT are engaged on one other problem—learn how to additionally take away methane, a way more potent greenhouse gasoline. In the primary 20 years after it’s emitted, methane has greater than 80 occasions the worldwide heating energy of CO2. That additionally signifies that if it may be pulled out of the air, it could shortly have a serious impression on climate change.

In a newly revealed study, the researchers examined the usage of zeolite, a sort of low cost clay used in cat litter, handled with a small quantity of copper. In the lab, as a stream of methane flowed via a heated tube full of the brand new materials, the methane was CO2. The course of works even when the focus of methane could be very low.

In idea, the CO2 could be used to make new merchandise, from sun shades, to vodka, to jet gas. But even when it’s simply launched into the environment, there’s a profit.


“When people hear that [the process creates CO2], they say, ‘Yikes, that’s not good—I know CO2 is bad for the environment,’” says Desiree Plata, an engineering professor at MIT and one of many authors of the paper. “But it turns out that methane is actually much worse, from a global warming perspective. What this allows us to do is bring immediate climate benefit into the Earth system and actually change global warming rates in our lifetime.”

If half of the methane in the environment was transformed to CO2, Plata says, the focus of atmospheric carbon would rise by one half per million, from 417 components per million to 418. But world warming could be diminished by 16%.

In the previous, others had tried to make use of an analogous course of to show methane into methanol, a gas. But it’s difficult to run the method affordably; the method works higher if the response goes from methane to CO2. Others have tried to develop expertise to seize methane in coal mines, however used costly supplies that additionally required additional excessive warmth. The zeolite-copper materials is reasonably priced, and the response works at far decrease temperatures.

Next, the researchers plan to tweak the construction of the fabric to finest seize methane. “Pushing air through cat litter is not easy,” Plata says. “You can imagine all of the technical challenges that would result—blowing powder around, and then heating that is a challenge as well. So one of the things that we need to do is get the catalyst structured in a way that lots of air can come by it relatively quickly, but still give you a good reaction.” The finish end result will likely be just like a catalytic converter in a automobile, she says.


The system could be used in locations the place methane emissions are excessive. On farms, in barns full of cattle—a serious supply of methane via cow burps and manure—the tech could faucet into present air flow programs on partitions. “We would just plug in downstream of that, and that’s good, because we’re taking advantage of air that’s already moving,” she says. The system could save electrical energy by avoiding the usage of followers. As the methane is transformed, it additionally generates warmth, which can be utilized in the system to maintain the response operating.

Solving the world’s methane drawback additionally will depend on reducing emissions of the gasoline. In the oil and gasoline sector, meaning monitoring down leaks and tightening pipes (and, finally, transitioning away from fossil fuels.) At landfills, pipes can seize methane from rotting meals and switch it into electrical energy. On farms, methane digesters may flip manure into power. Other options, like feeding cows seaweed dietary supplements, could probably additionally help.

Other methane sources will more durable, if not  unimaginable to remove, just like the methane that’s being lost from melting permafrost. And, as with CO2, there’s already loads of methane already in the environment—so eradicating the gasoline that’s already there could be essential.

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