Scientists fabricate carbon nanofibers from air

Posted on 20 Aug 2015 by Michael Cruickshank

A team of researchers from the George Washington University have detailed a process that allows for the fabrication of carbon nanofibers from the air.

In work outlined at conference of the American Chemical Society, the scientists explained a novel approach which turns atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) into carbon nanofibers.

The team calls their approach ‘Diamonds in the Sky’, due to the high value of its output product.

“We have found a way to use atmospheric CO2 to produce high-yield carbon nanofibers,” says Stuart Licht, Ph.D., who leads a research team at George Washington University.

“Such nanofibers are used to make strong carbon composites, such as those used in the Boeing Dreamliner, as well as in high-end sports equipment, wind turbine blades and a host of other products.”

While this is not the first time that scientists have discovered a way to synthesis carbon products from the atmosphere, this new approach is unique in that it is highly energy efficient.

The scientists’ low-energy process can be run using only a few volts of electricity, sunlight and freely available CO2 in the air.

Specifically, their technology makes use of a high-efficiency solar cell to generate both electrical current and thermal energy.

This is then used to power an electrochemical cell which dissolves CO2 into molten carbides at 750° C with the help of nickel and steel electrodes. The carbon nanofibers then build up on the steel electrode, from where they can be removed.

The team behind this research believes that this kind of solar-powered setup could be used to remove huge amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere.

“We calculate that with a physical area less than 10% 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,” Licht says.

While such a project, due to its scale, is decades away, the same technology could be used to ramp up production and bring down the cost of a whole range of carbon nanofiber products.

These products include super-strong new composite materials and a whole range of revolutionary implantable medical technologies.