RMIT researchers develop innovative techology to advance decarbonisation of heavy industries


RMIT researchers have developed a smart and ultra-efficient new method of capturing carbon dioxide and turning it to solid carbon to help speed up the decarbonisation of heavy industries.

Decarbonisation is a huge technical problem for heavy industries like cement and steel, which are not only energy-intensive but also emit CO2 directly throughout the manufacturing process.

The new carbon dioxide utilization technology, which can be seamlessly integrated into existing industrial processes, provides a way to instantly transform carbon dioxide as it is produced into a permanently solid state, preventing CO2 from entering the environment.

Associate Professor Torben Daeneke, a co-lead researcher, said the research built on an earlier experimental approach that employed liquid metals as a catalyst.

“Our new method still harnesses the power of liquid metals but the design has been modified for smoother integration into standard industrial processes,” Daeneke said.

“As well as being simpler to scale up, the new tech is radically more efficient and can break down CO2 to carbon in an instant.

“We hope this could be a significant new tool in the push towards decarbonisation, to help industries and governments deliver on their climate commitments and bring us radically closer to net zero.”

According to the International Energy Agency, the steel and cement industries are responsible for roughly 7% of total global CO2 emissions, and both sectors are likely to grow in the future decades as demand is fueled by population expansion and urbanisation.

CCS technologies have generally focused on compressing the gas into a liquid and injecting it underground, but this poses considerable engineering hurdles as well as environmental considerations. CCS has also been chastised for being too costly and energy-intensive to be widely adopted.

The novel strategy, according to Daeneke, an Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow, provides a sustainable option with the goal of preventing CO2 emissions while also giving value-added carbon reutilisation.

“Turning CO2 into a solid avoids potential issues of leakage and locks it away securely and indefinitely,” he said.

“And because our process does not use very high temperatures, it would be feasible to power the reaction with renewable energy.”

The Australian government has designated carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a high-priority technology for investment in its net-zero strategy, launching a $1 billion fund to explore innovative low-emission technologies.

Video: RMIT University YouTube channel