Science Café Cleveland: “CO2 Capture from Air for the Environment and Human Health”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its sixth Assessment Report in the summer of 2021, which concluded that human activity, particularly our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, are the main contributor to the current observed changes in the Earth’s climate. The report indicates that the 1.5°C increase in average global temperature, established by the 2015 Paris Agreement, is approaching much faster than initially thought. The likelihood of surpassing 2°C of average global temperature warming within the next two decades is virtually certain unless significant GHG emission reduction efforts are implemented.

One of the most effective ways of combating this temperature increase is by achieving net-zero emissions of GHGs, especially from large emitters, such as fossil fuel-burning power plants. An additional (and potentially necessary) method of combating anthropogenic climate change is through the capture of GHG already emitted into the atmosphere. The atmospheric concentration of the GHG carbon dioxide (CO2)—responsible for more than half of the current warming imbalance—has been recorded to fluctuate between 200 and 300 parts per million (ppm) for the last 800,000 years, oscillating with the glacial and interglacial periods of the planet. In recent years, in contrast, the concentration had a sharp increase to 415ppm.

There is, in fact, another, well-understood reason to remove CO2 from the air besides climate change: exposure to high levels of CO2 in confined spaces impacts the cognitive abilities of humans. In spacecraft in which it is not possible to circulate fresh air from the outside, for instance, it becomes critical to remove the excess exhaled CO2. Constraints and requirements in safety, weight, size, energy consumption and reliability of the air revitalization systems in spacecraft requires the discovery of high-performing benign materials and robust technologies. The most mature technologies to date make use of materials that can absorb “CO2 selectively from air, both on earth and in space. However, these materials do not last very long—they eventually decompose or lose their capacity to remove the CO2. In order to recycle these materials for continued use, a significant amount of energy is often consumed. Current research, therefore, aims to develop new materials that are environmentally friendly, easy to regenerate, and perform under a variety of conditions.

In the first Science Café Cleveland of 2022, Burcu Gurkan, the Nord Distinguished Associate Professor of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at CWRU, will discuss her lab’s research that is underway to remove CO2 from cabin air and from the atmosphere overall. 

Titled “CO2 Capture from Air for the Environment and Human Health,” Gurkan’s talk will focus on the specific challenges that exist today, and how to overcome them in terms of material performance, technological adaptability, economics and social acceptance. 

Hosted by the CWRU chapter of Sigma Xi, this talk will be held Monday, Jan. 10, at 7 p.m. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this talk will be held virtually. Get the Zoom information on the Facebook event page.