The Green Party
to the article “Making Dirty Coal Plants Cleaner” in
the July 13 issue of Science, emissions from coal-fired
plants are responsible for almost a third of the greenhouse gases
caused by humanity. In the United States alone, the gases these plants
produce surpass the amount generated by cars and all other industries
combined. Is it any wonder that finding a way to curb these carbon
emissions is a popular idea? Edward J. Maginn, professor
of chemical and biomolecular engineering, who is quoted in the article,
says there are basically three approaches to capturing the carbon
in flue gas: pre-combustion capture, post-combustion capture, and
oxy-firing. Maginn, along with Joan F. Brennecke, the
Keating-Crawford Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
and Director of the Notre Dame Energy Center, William F.
Schneider, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular
engineering, and a team of Notre Dame researchers are concentrating
on post-combustion activities, which apply to the majority of the
world’s power plants. What’s unique about their activities
is that they are using ionic liquids (ILs),
a relatively new class of chemicals that are liquid at room temperature,
to create an environmentally friendly absorption process.
“One of the exciting things about research is how pursuing one activity
can shed light on another and open totally new avenues of possibility,” Maginn
says. While the team was working to make green solvents for the chemical industry,
they found the CO2 they
were using in the experiments dissolved in the ILs. This led to a few other
experiments, and now the team is working on a federally funded project to capture
and separate CO2 in
carbon-based electric generation power plants.
In fact, they have established a Cooperative Research and Development
Agreement for the project and are working with DTE Energy, Detroit,
Mich.; Babcock and Wilcox, Baberton, Ohio; EMD Chemicals, Inc., Gibbstown,
N.J.; Trimeric, Buda, Texas; Air Products, Allentown, Pa.; and the
National Energy Technology Laboratory, Pittsburgh, Pa. To date they
have identified more than 20 new ILs that dissolve CO2.
They also have designed new ILs with enhanced CO2 solubility
and developed advanced molecular modeling capabilities to make quantitative
predictions of IL properties based only on chemical structure.