Rocket tech tries to put CO2 emissions on ice

Aerospace company ATK seeks to sequester CO2 from coal-fire plants by turning it to dry ice. Will the idea cheapen carbon capture costs, or just evaporate?

Rockets are cool, but rocket nozzles may be even cooler. That is, if they live up to the expectations of Alliant Techsystems, or ATK. The aerospace company wants to use the accelerator nozzles to transform carbon dioxide emissions into dry ice.

ATK, partnering with ACENT Laboratories, received $1 million in federal stimulus funding in April, as part of ARPA-E's IMPACCT program (Innovative Materials & Processes for Advanced Carbon Capture Technologies).

Current carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) methods entail chemically separating CO2 from emissions and burying the greenhouse gas underground. The technology is very expensive, but many see it as a way to ween us off coal as we move toward relying more fully on renewable energies.

ATK's approach is akin to what happens when a jet cruises across the sky and leaves a white, icy trail in its wake. But instead of involving atmospheric water vapor and airplanes, ATK's theoretical process will compress CO2 within flue gas and then shoot it through a rocket nozzle at supersonic speeds. As the CO2 escapes the nozzle, the rapidly expanding gas will freeze and precipitate out as dry ice. The idea is that it might then be stored as a solid, treated, or used for commercial purposes.

Discovery News quotes Robert Bakos, vice president of ATK:

Today's carbon capture technology adds 80 percent to the cost per kilowatt hour of electricity delivered. With our approach, we could knock that down to 30 percent.

Within 14 months, ATK hopes to demonstrate their idea in a lab. If successful, a pilot project in a power plant will follow.

Coal-burning power plants currently produce about half our country's electricity, according to the Department of Energy. They also produce a third of our carbon dioxide emissions.

That would be a lot of dry ice.

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Images: Flickr_Mocodragon, DOE
: Ecogeek

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