If cleaning carbon dioxide from the atmosphere was easy, we'd already be doing it. But carbon capture has proven to be a tough technology to feasibly roll out on a grand scale, and that means all the things we do that produce carbon dioxide emissions - which seems to be just about everything these days - are still roughly as bad for the planet as they were several years ago. That's a problem in a warming world, and one that a team of researchers may have just found a solution for via an inexpensive polymeric material.
Reporting their findings in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the team (which includes a Nobel laureate in chemistry) describes a new solid material based on polyethylenimine that can be used to capture carbon dioxide at the source - be that an industrial smokestack or a car's exhaust pipe - under real-world conditions where the air contains moisture.
That last part is important. Previous methods of scrubbing CO2 from the air have enjoyed varying degrees of success (usually under controlled conditions), but none has been particularly effective in the presence of humidity. The new material, which is inexpensive and readily available, has shown some of the highest carbon dioxide removal rates of any material ever tested in the presence of humidity.
It's also reusable. After capturing carbon, the material also gives it up easily so it can be sequestered or recycled through the manufacture of other substances. The polyethylenimine material can then also be reused over and over again to capture more carbon dioxide. Used to line smokestacks or even out in the open atmosphere, the material could blunt the impact of all of those things we humans do that are contributing to the carbon glut in the atmosphere.