Kitty litter clay can help pull methane emissions from air


With countries across the globe taking actions to combat climate change, carbon dioxide gets all the attention as a climate villain. Methane, on the other hand, is significantly more potent and has far greater heat-trapping potential, making it crucial to cut methane emissions in order to address climate crisis. To reduce methane intensity, an MIT team has developed a new approach to remove methane from the air by using clay found in a cat litter.

Agriculture, coal mining, melting permafrost, and as a by-product of natural gas processing and transportation all generate substantial amounts of methane. Methane is 81 times more effective in trapping heat in the atmosphere in its first 20 years after it was released than carbon dioxide, and 27 times more effective over a century. As a result, methane capture and removal play a critical part of our planet protection plans.

MIT researchers have developed a viable new technique based on zeolite clays, which are porous mineral formations commonly utilized as commercial adsorbents like cat litter. The researchers discovered that treating the zeolite with copper made it exceedingly effective at removing methane from the atmosphere.

To test the theory, the researchers put particles of copper-treated zeolite into a reaction tube and pushed through air containing methane from 2 parts per million (ppm) to 2 percent. To speed up the process, the reaction tube was heated to various degrees.

When heated to 310 °C (590 °F), the zeolite was able to catch and convert 100% of the methane in the tube. This is far cooler than the temperature required by other methane capture technologies, and it works at much lower concentrations, which could make the new process more practicable.

The new technology, which turns methane to carbon dioxide, is not a perfect solution, but the researchers claim that converting half of the atmosphere's methane would add only 0.2% of today's CO2 to the atmosphere, while reducing global warming by 16%.

The team believes that coal mines and dairy barns, which frequently contain concentrated pockets of methane and have low technological requirements, would be the best places to start using the novel catalyst. Nonetheless, there are still certain obstacles to overcome before this technology can be considered viable, such as how to improve air movement through the clay substance.

The US Department of Energy has granted the researchers a US$2 million to support the team in working on putting the process into equipment that can be tested in mines and farms.

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