Reducing CO2 emissions with low cost carbon capture technology

Faculty of Science
Chemistry and Biomolecular Sciences
Aerial photo of the campus, with a focus on the STEM Complex.
Scientists and environmentalists around the world are alarmed by the increasing greenhouse gas emissions arising from human activity.

Many are taking action and seeking solutions to reduce the anthropogenic sources of CO2 in the atmosphere, including Professor Tom Woo, who successfully discovered new materials that will allow for an effective and affordable way to capture CO2.

Professor Woo explains, “One of the largest sources of CO2 comes from burning fossil fuels to generate electricity. Current technologies used to scrub the CO2 from the combustion gases of power plants require too much energy, making them expensive and impractical. Our team helped design a new material called a Metal Organic Framework (MOF) that can capture CO2 in an energy efficient manner in the presence of water. Most other MOFs that are good at capturing CO2 have proven to be even better at capturing water, which renders them of little use for wet flue gases.” However, with the help of his former group members Peter Boyd and Tom Daff, Prof. Woo found a solution: design new Metal Organic Frameworks that operate in the presence of water.

Professor Tom Woo with former PhD student Peter Boyd

To do so, they used large-scale data techniques, generated more than 330,000 hypothetical materials on a computer and evaluated their ability to capture CO2 by simulation. Then, Prof. Woo and his team uncovered common structural features at the atomic level that would bind CO2, rather than water, by using 3-D pattern recognition techniques. This was the Ph.D. thesis work of uOttawa alumni Peter Boyd, and of former post-doctoral fellow Tom Daff. Through a collaboration with scientists at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, they identified potential target materials containing the desired structural features, and successfully synthesized the MOFs in the lab. Collaborators at the University of California Berkeley, Heriot-Watt University (Scotland) and the Universidad de Granada (Spain) ultimately determined that these new materials outperformed current commercial materials for capturing CO2 from wet flue gases.

As the world begins to recognize the severity of the climate crisis, Professor Woo is confident that his team is setting important groundwork for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. His former doctoral student, Peter Boyd adds, “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 reducing carbon emissions worldwide.”

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