Carbon dioxide is one of the dreaded greenhouse gases leading to global warming and thus to climate change. CO2 is produced by industrial processes, vehicles and many other machines and human activities. For years, scientists have tried to capture the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but till now the process was very expensive and economically unprofitable. Nevertheless, an Indian manufacturing plant has now found a way to capture carbon dioxide and turn it into baking soda.
The big breakthrough
A manufacturing unit based in Tuticorin, South India has made waves by coming up with a new technology which can convert the planet heating gas carbon dioxide into baking soda. It is capturing carbon dioxide from its coal-powered and is using the captured carbon dioxide to form baking soda. According to the company, it can lock up to 60,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year.
The new technology is attracting worldwide interest, especially as it is currently running without any help of government subsidy. This is a big advance in the technology for carbon capture, as for many years now, the main challenges were weak government support and high costs.
The company has come up with a new chemical which can strip carbon dioxide from emissions. This new chemical is efficient than the one used presently, and it also requires less energy and is much less corrosive as well. As it requires smaller equipment too, it means the cost of building the equipment is much less than conventional methods of carbon capture.
At Tuticorin Alkali Chemicals, CO2 has been making baking soda from the carbon dioxide extracted from its boiler. The captured gas is mixed with ammonia and rock salt to produce baking soda. Baking soda has a wide variety of uses, such as in manufacturing glass, detergents, sweeteners and paper products. The plant now has zero emissions, both in water and air.
The process has been termed CCU – Carbon Capture and Utilization, and is the first of its kind. Till now, carbon dioxide emissions had to be buried underground and the process was known as CCS – Carbon capture and storage.
The amazing breakthrough is great news for the planet, as the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere can be used for many purposes, and in the process, upto 5-10% of carbon dioxide emissions due to coal can be reduced.
For heavy industries, which as of now are difficult to run on renewable energy source, this development is good news, as the industries can now capture the carbon dioxide they produce, and turn it into something profitable.
The advantages of the new carbon capture technique
Till now, carbon capture methods have focused on storage and capture, in which the emissions are captured into underground rocks without any economic benefit and at a great cost. The plant in Tuticorin is now the first industrial scale unsubsidized unit which captures carbon emissions and also utilizes it.
The new development means that carbon dioxide can become a raw material for many industries, rather than polluting the atmosphere. A global market is already in place to utilize captured CO2 from brewing industries etc, from which carbon can be obtained easily and cheaply.
What it means for the planet
The CCU technique uses much less energy and produces less waste as well, in comparison to the other methods of carbon capture in coal plants. Plants which adopt the CCU technology will be independent of steel and other expensive equipment, which promise to result in greater cost efficiency. Also, like the Tuticorin plant, other plants using coal as fuel can edge close to zero emissions.
In fact, Tuticorin Alkali is convinced that CCU can bring down worldwide coal emissions down by at least 5-10%. The company is now planning to add another coal fuelled boiler to produce carbon dioxide which can be used to manufacture fertilizer.
The cost factor
Because of the low costs, the Tuticorin plant has not required funds or subsidies from the government, thus reducing the financial strain on the government as well. If other countries pick up this new CCU process, there could be cost savings globally.
The new technology of CCU may not be enough to reduce carbon emissions completely, but it will definitely contribute in a major way to reduce the carbon footprint of coal-fuelled industries globally.