Many different scenarios have been written on achieving a substantial reduction in carbon emissions. In all these scenarios Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) plays a significant role, as the predicted use of fossil fuels will continue to grow. There are two factors that determine the success of large-scale employment of CCS: (1) the uncertainties associated with the sequestration in geological formations and (2) the costs associated with carbon capture.
In this EFRC we focus on the energy costs associated with the separation of CO2 from gas mixtures. The current technology has a parasitic energy of 30-40%, which implies a significant decrease in efficiency of power generation. Simple thermodynamic arguments show that the minimal parasitic energy to separate CO2 from flue gasses is 3.5%. The chemical industry typically operates at 3-5 times the thermodynamic minimum, which suggests that the parasitic energy of carbon capture can be reduced by at least a factor of two.
From a scientific point of view, the separation of CO2 is very challenging as the differences between the molecules are relatively small. Modern chemistry and nano-science allows us molecular control over the properties of materials. The vision of our EFRC is to develop the science to create, understand, and predict novel materials that are tailor-made with exactly the right molecular properties to separate gasses relevant for clean energy technologies. The long-term goal of this EFRC is to develop the science and materials that will contribute to the reduction of the parasitic energy costs of CCS.
At UC Berkeley and LBNL, alternative energy has been an important research theme, as evidenced by the effort on solar-to-fuel (Helios) and biomass conversion (JBEI and EBI). Carbon Capture and Sequestration is a logical extension that perfectly fits into the energy emphasis of Berkeley.