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Carbon nanotubes capture greenhouse gases, desalinate water

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory licenses carbon nanotube technology to spinoff company for commercialization.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Carbon nanotech has been applied to everything from boat construction to windshields and now, with a licensing agreement from Livermore Lab, a Hayward, Calif., company will apply it to water desalination and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The National Nuclear Security Administration's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has licensed a new carbon nanotube technology to its spinoff company Porifera. The company will develop permeable membranes for CO2 sequestration, water desalination, and other liquid-based separations based on discoveries made at Livermore.

The technology integrates carbon nanotubes into polymer membranes, increasing the flux of carbon dioxide capture by two orders of magnitude thanks to the material's unique "nanofluidic" properties. This technique could enable a less expensive method of capturing carbon from coal plants, according to the Livermore. Sequestering CO2, a greenhouse gas emission, is one strategy for curbing global warming, although this particular process has yet to prove out on a industrial scale.

"The technology is very exciting," said Olgica Bakajin, former Livermore scientist and now chief technology officer at Porifera. "The reason it makes sense to do it is because of the unique nanofluidic properties of carbon nanotube pores. It's at the right place to take it to the marketplace."

Nanotubes are graphitic layers wrapped into cylinders a few nanometers in diameter, (approximately 1/50,000th the width of a human hair) and up to several millimeters long. Their extraordinary strength and unique electrical and thermal conductive properties make them attractive for many applications.

Porifera is funding the carbon capture project with a $1 million-plus grant from the U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency. It's pursuing the water purification angle with a $3.3 million DARPA grant to develop small, portable self-cleaning desalination systems.