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Press Release

Chriss Swaney

For immediate release:
October 8, 2002

Carnegie Mellon Researchers Find New Materials to Reduce A Variety of Dangerous Carbon Dioxide Emissions

PITTSBURGH—A team of scientists led by Carnegie Mellon University's David Sholl and the University of Pittsburgh's Karl Johnson are discovering new materials that could lead to cheaper products and reduced emissions from power plants.

The researchers are working with carbon nanotubes, straw-like structures with walls a single atom thick that can filter gases more quickly than current systems.

"These atoms of carbon nanotubes are arranged so they offer practically no friction to passing gas molecules," according to Sholl, a professor of chemical engineering at Carnegie Mellon.

Sholl said that such smooth surfaces mean the tubes theoretically can transport gas through a membrane at rates far greater than the materials currently used to separate gases, while still being able to efficiently separate different chemicals. Speeding up gas separation processes could be a windfall for the multi-billion dollar industrial gases sector. The products in this sector are as diverse as liquid nitrogen for use in hospitals, and the ultra-pure gases used in making computer chips.

Two possible applications for the nanotubes' gas transport qualities involve carbon dioxide and hydrogen. Plans for dramatically reducing pollution from automobiles often involve using hydrogen as fuel, and separating hydrogen from other gases is a critical step in the process. And since carbon dioxide helps trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere, possibly contributing to global warming, governments worldwide are seeking to reduce gas emissions from internal combustion and power plants.

"Properly sized and assembled, nanotubes could separate gases with lower power requirements than current methods in exhaust systems like power plants or cars," Sholl said.

The team's research will be published in Physical Review Letters. Scientists from Carnegie Mellon, the University of Pittsburgh and the Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory cooperate on the team. A portion of the project's funding comes from the Chemical and Transport Systems Division at the National Science Foundation. This work has focused on detailed computational simulations of nanotube membranes, and the team is now working with experimental collaborators to produce prototype nanotube membranes.


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