uOttawa Researchers Designed New Materials to Capture Greenhouse Gases

Posted on Wednesday, December 11, 2019

smoke coming out of chimneys, representing CO2

Power plants that burn fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas are one of the largest sources of global CO2 emissions responsible for climate change. A team of researchers, including Dr. Tom Woo, full professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biomolecular Sciences at the University of Ottawa, have developed materials that could capture these greenhouse gases before they even hit the atmosphere.

Dr. Woo supervised Dr. Peter Boyd, the lead author of this research and a former uOttawa Ph.D. student, and Dr. Tom Daff, former uOttawa postdoctoral fellow. They found a way to facilitate the carbon capture process, which is notoriously energy intensive and expensive.

“A lower energy and cost technology that could enable large scale CO2 capture from power plants uses materials called Metal Organic Frameworks (MOFs) to capture and release the CO2,” explained Dr. Woo. “The problem with this approach has been that materials which are good at capturing CO2 have proven to be even better at capturing water, which renders them of little use for wet flue gases. But we found a solution.”

In his lab at uOttawa, Dr. Woo and his team used big data techniques to design new MOFs on the computer that function in the presence of water. To do this, they generated a diverse library of over 330,000 materials on the computer and evaluated their ability to capture CO2 by simulation. Employing data mining and 3D-pattern recognition techniques, the researchers uncovered common structural features at the atomic level that would bind CO2 but not water. 

Then, working with scientists at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, the team identified potential target materials containing the structural features that could be synthesized in the lab. The Swiss team successfully produced the materials that were designed on the computer and tested their performance for capturing CO2 from wet flue gases.

Collaborators at the University of California Berkeley, Heriot-Watt University and the Universidad de Granada then found out that the materials outperformed current commercial materials for capturing CO2 from wet flue gases.

“Canada is a leader in carbon capture, with the World’s first coal burning power plant that captures the CO2 from its combustion flue gas (Boundary Dam Power Station in Saskatchewan),” said Dr. Peter Boyd. “I’m proud to be part of a research team that continues to work towards finding ways to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We designed new materials that could be part of practical, low-cost solutions for carbon reduction on a global scale.”

The research Data-driven design of metal–organic frameworks for wet flue gas CO2 capture was published on December 11, 2019, in the journal Nature.


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