How can carbon become a sustainable energy source?
Carbon takes many forms as humans manipulate and utilize energy and material resources present in the environment and more than seven billion tons of anthropogenic carbon is emitted into the atmosphere annually, primarily in the form of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide.
Photo by Eileen Barroso
My research is aimed at paving a way to a future in which the global communities can obtain energy from a wide range of sustainable sources while minimizing environmental impacts via technologies such as carbon capture and storage.
We live in a society which is highly carbon-based. Therefore, the future of the humanity depends on our ability to use carboneous energy and materials with an eye towards environmental sustainability. This will inevitably have to include efficient extraction of energy and materials from fossil resources, biomass and municipal solid wastes. For example, my research group is currently investigating innovative ways to synthesize hydrogen and liquid fuels from non-recyclable plastics with integrated carbon capture and storage. CO2 can be captured by using novel materials such as Nanoparticle Organic Hybrid Materials (NOHMs) and Mg extracted from non-carbonated minerals (e.g., serpentine). If we can find a way to keep the carbon circulating above ground while providing energy and materials, we won't have to take so much out of the ground. Furthermore, once carbon-free renewable energy such as solar and wind are readily available with lowered cost, the emitted CO2 can even be converted to fuels and chemicals and can be used as an energy carrier.
Being able to manage our role in the global carbon cycle is an important step in the future of our society. In the past, engineering has mainly focused on optimizing individual units of a process. Today, we need to look at the global picture and add the environment as one of the most important factors in our equations.