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September 4th, 2007
I had an article published recently in a B2B journal called Nanomaterials News about controlling the power station combustion process with a porous membrane made from an advanced ceramic material known as LSCF. The research work was carried out by Ian Metcalfe and Alan Thursfield at Newcastle University, together with Kang Li at Imperial College
London. There is a technical paper in the Journal of Solid
State Electrochemistry (subscription required), and a news report that describes the technology in more detail than I have room for here.
In short, microscopic tubes of LSCF can filter all gases other than oxygen from the air, and burning natural gas or gassified coal in pure oxygen rather than nitrogen-rich air leaves almost pure carbon dioxide as a waste product. That carbon dioxide exhaust could then be used cost-effectively to produce useful chemicals such as methanol.
The LSCF technique is simple and elegant, and, if the researchers can account for a small amount of missing carbon (most probably in the form of solid deposits), the process could prove viable on a large scale. How soon this technology could be implemented depends on research funding, accelerating the development through industrial collaborations, and political initiative.
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