Scientists in Brazil say they have developed a technique for absorbing industry-produced carbon dioxide before it reaches the atmosphere. The half-centimeter ceramic spheres were developed at the chemistry department of the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) in Belo Horizonte in south-eastern Brazil.

The inventors told Tierramérica that they believe this is the best method for capturing CO2, because the ceramic balls absorb and neutralize the CO2 before it is released.

When the CO2 interacts with the sphere material, a high-temperature reaction takes place, said researcher Jadson Belchior. “The absorption isn’t instantaneous. It occurs as a function of time and temperature. They are the two major variables we can control: a more rapid emission process at higher temperatures, or slower emission at lower temperatures,” he said.

Belchior, left, and Lima display some of their spheres

Belchior, left, and Lima display some of their spheres. Credit: UFMG.

The duo are keeping the specific composition of the balls a secret and are seeking patents, but they seem a little defensive. In the Tierramérica interview, “All of the records indicated that the material we were using, subjected to a certain temperature, would not be effective for absorbing carbon dioxide,” said coresearcher Geraldo Lima.

Lima and Belchior claim the balls can absorb 40% of the CO2 that comes in contact with it, and say they hope to boost that number to 60%.

Belchior contrasted their approach to CO2-capture approaches. He said, “In the case of the technology developed for capturing the gas that is already in the atmosphere, it is a correction, because the gas was already released,” and the pollution has already occurred.

Another advantage, and “the main point of the proposal,” according to Lima, is that when each sphere becomes saturated with CO2, it is reused for other purposes, for example, as a raw material in the chemical, plastic or textile industries.

“The resulting residue is carbon dioxide in its gaseous form, which can be packed in cylinders, or its molecules used to make a different molecule through chemical reactions,” Lima said. “Here we have a double environmental function. Other techniques don’t have a way to dispose of the CO2, they just store it.”

Preliminary tests show that the ceramic material can be reused up to 10 times. Experiments conducted by researcher Geison Voga Pereira found that each kilogram of the special ceramic can absorb up to 500 grams of CO2.

They think their innovation also can add a new wrinkle to the emerging CO2 capture and credits market, and predict that their spheres may be able to generate revenues 10 times investment costs.

They envision the spheres being used in the exhaust stacks used in, for example, steel, coke and cement industries.