Scientists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology have come up with a way to remove methane from the air by using a cheap type of clay called zeolite—a mineral also found in cat litter.
In a study published by the journal ACS Environment Au, The Researchers stuffed copper-treated zeolite in a reaction tub, which they heated from outside. Statement. Then they pushed methane gas streams through the tube. They discovered that even at low levels, zeolite converts methane to carbon dioxide by treating it with copper.
“When people hear that [the process creates CO2], they say, ‘Yikes, that’s not good—I know CO2 is bad for the environment,’” Desiree Plata, an engineering professor at MIT and one of the authors of the paper, tells Fast Company’s Adele Peters. “But it turns out that methane is actually much worse, from a global warming perspective. What this allows us to do is bring immediate climate benefit into the Earth system and actually change global warming rates in our lifetime.”
The authors state that methane is 120x more powerful than carbon dioxide in warming the planet per-mass. The colorless and odorless gas can be derived from many sources, including slash-and burn agriculture, dairy farming and coal and ore mining. It can also be used to heat wetlands, melting permafrost and drilling for oil and natural gas.
“Pushing air through cat litter is not easy,” Plata tells Fast Company. “You can imagine all of the technical challenges that would result—blowing powder around, and then heating that is a challenge as well. So one of the things that we need to do is get the catalyst structured in a way that lots of air can come by it relatively quickly, but still give you a good reaction.”
Plata says she imagines zeolite-based filters being installed in mine shafts and indoor dairy farms. This is where methane is concentrated but not so much that flaring is an option. Wired’s Gregory Barber. One advantage of this system, yet to be tested in the field, is that it releases heat, which could potentially be used to generate electricity.
“At coal mines, you could potentially generate enough heat to generate electricity at the power plant scale, which is remarkable because it means that the device could pay for itself,” Plata says in the statement. “Most air-capture solutions cost a lot of money and would never be profitable. Our technology may one day be a counterexample.”
However, there is little time left for new climate solutions. A recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warned that Deep cuts to greenhouse gasTo avoid a climate disaster by 2025, emissions are required.
“It works. I’ll say that. We can convert low levels of methane,” Plata tells Wired. “The question is about how quickly you can make it work.”