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Professor collaborates with the Department of Energy on a carbon-negative manufacturing project

Professor collaborates with the Department of Energy on a carbon-negative manufacturing project

Professor collaborates with the Department of Energy on a carbon-negative manufacturing project
September 11
17:00 2021

Department of Chemistry professor Shengqian Ma is currently working on a $2 million, three-year project for the U.S. Department of Energy, focused on capturing carbon dioxide waste.

The project is headed by Northern Illinois University professor Tao Xu, who will focus on cleanly converting water and carbon dioxide into ethanol. Also on the project is the DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory and Angstrom Advanced Inc. The work is being funded by the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

“The CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has increased drastically over the last 10 to 20 years,” Ma said. “It’s mainly from human being activities. It’s from the power plants, driving every day we emit a lot of CO2.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its sixth report on climate change in early August. The report details increased global temperatures alongside an increase in extreme climate events if an overwhelming change is not established.

“Now we are seeing the effects, with these wildfires happening all across the globe,” postoperative research associate Gaurav Verma said. “The summers especially have been so hot this year, the winters have also been prolonged. Like we had a snowstorm in Texas recently. It’s high time we tackle the situation and take care of the climate change issue as well as the emission of greenhouse gasses.”

Ma’s portion of the project is highly focused on creating a container and membrane to capture carbon dioxide emissions from manufacturing plants. Ma describes the membrane as a sponge soaking up the carbon dioxide emissions released during manufacturing.

The other portions of the project will be focused on the electrolyzer that converts carbon dioxide emissions and water into ethanol. This technological development combined with Ma’s work will create an efficient form of carbon-negative manufacturing.

“There is no way to 100 percent eliminate CO2 emissions — we need to slow down the increase of CO2 emissions,” Ma said. “Particularly some politicians don’t really understand the science, like in February we experienced extremely low temperatures so it’s ‘global cooling.’ That is not true because the increase in CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is going to increase the temperature particularly in the summer.”

The past decade was the warmest on record, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. With the U.S. warming faster than the global rate since the ‘70s, climate change has moved from the horizon to the forefront in many people’s lives.

“I think something has to be done now,” mechanical and energy engineering senior Isaiah Manley said. “If we want to solve climate change we have to implement more sources of clean energy into every aspect of our everyday lives”

The team estimates a prototype should be developed in three years. At the moment, Ma is also in talks regarding a hydrogen fuel cell project to address climate change from multiple angles.

“If we are too selfish, maybe our generation can still have some comfortable weather,” Ma said. “How about the next generation, or the next, next generation? Of course, the whole public needs to be aware of this. It’s serious. Otherwise, we are going to pay a much heavier and bigger price than COVID-19.”

Featured Image: Dr. Shengqian Ma stands in his office where he is working on carbon-negative manufacturing on Sept. 7, 2021. Photo by Zach Del Bello

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Alex Corey

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