UTA Research Uses Seawater to Remove Carbon Dioxide from Atmosphere

A University of Texas at Arlington researcher is working to create a process that uses seawater to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Erika La Plante, assistant professor in the Materials Science and Engineering Department, received a $125,000 subgrant from the University of California–Los Angeles (UCLA) as part of a larger Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy grant for the work.

The UCLA team developed a continuous electrolytic pH pump that uses high-alkalinity seawater with high concentrations of carbon dioxide and cations to produce minerals that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. La Plante and her postdoctoral researcher, Muhammad Kashif Majeed, will develop electrode materials for the pump to make the removal process more efficient.

La Plante previously was a postdoctoral researcher and project scientist at UCLA and part of the larger team that began the work. She authored a paper introducing the results of their research.

Erika La Plante

“We are measuring the rates of mineral precipitation under various electrochemical conditions and tendencies,” she said. “Once we have candidate materials based on tendencies, we can look at cost and durability.

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated that we need to remove 10-20 gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere per year to avoid catastrophic climate change. We believe that our process could make significant progress toward that goal.”

Seawater with a high pH can be used to create minerals, such as magnesium hydroxide, which remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. To accomplish this, seawater is flowed into a reactor, where electrochemical reactions form magnesium hydroxide, calcium carbonate or magnesium carbonate, trapping the carbon dioxide for at least an estimated 10,000 to 100,000 years.

Put another way, the technology has the potential to remove 10 gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year, La Plante said. Unlike conventional carbon dioxide capture processes that require significant energy, this new approach relies on electrolytic carbonate mineral precipitation using renewable energy with a design that is simple and scalable.

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