New way to turn CO2 into carbon nanofibres

Researchers in the US have developed a method to take carbon dioxide from the air and make carbon nanofibres, super-strong materials used in the aerospace, automotive, and other industries.

As New Scientist reports, the technique was developed by a team led by Stuart Licht, of George Washington University in Washington DC and presented at this week’s American Chemical Society meeting in Boston, Massachusetts.

It involves running a small current through a tank filled with a hot, molten salt. Carbon from the air is dissolved into the tank and tiny carbon fibres slowly form at one of the electrodes.

“These little islands provide the take-off point for the carbon nanofibres and they grow from there,” Licht said.

According to Licht, the technique is cheaper than other methods which are so expensive that they are not viable for use in many applications.

He added that the technique could even be used to fight climate change.

 “We calculate that with a physical area less than 10 per cent the size of the Sahara desert, our process could remove enough CO2 to decrease atmospheric levels to those of the pre-industrial revolution within 10 years,” he said.

However, as the BBC reports, the climate change fighting potential of the technique has been questioned by some scientists.

Dr Paul Fennell, a chemical engineer and clean energy researcher at Imperial College London, told the BBC, "If they can make carbon nanofibres, that is a laudable aim and they're a worthwhile product to have.

"But if your idea is to take CO2 out of the atmosphere and produce so many carbon nanofibres that you make a difference to climate change – I'd be extremely surprised if you could do that."