back to article Ex-squeeze me? Baking soda? Boffins claim it safely sucks CO2 out of the air

A team of scientists believe they have made a "significant advance" capturing carbon dioxide with a little bit of help from one of the main ingredients in baking soda. They developed microcapsules made up of "a highly permeable polymer shell" and a fluid composed of sodium carbonate solution* to suck out carbon dioxide from …

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  1. Martin-73 Silver badge
    Headmaster

    Umm, so not baking soda then?

    Baking soda is sodium hydrogencarbonate (aka Sodium Bicarbonate)

    Sodium carbonate is WASHING soda

    Please remind me not to eat cakes cooked by El Reg journalists <grin>

    1. JassMan Silver badge

      Re: Umm, so not baking soda then?

      I think it not the elReg journalist but the "scientist". If you look at other versions of the story on the web, it appears to be the spokesman for the lab who repeatedly uses "baking soda" in his explanation in place of washing soda.

      I think most people agree that the recipes produced by other elRegers are usually quite palatable.

      1. Chris Miller
        Joke

        Re: Umm, so not baking soda then?

        Presumably the spokesman is a chemist, so probably doesn't do much baking. Or washing.

        1. Chemist

          Re: Umm, so not baking soda then?

          "the spokesman is a chemist, so probably doesn't do much baking. Or washing""

          Well I am a chemist, I had a shower this evening and then baked bread ( wholemeal + brown Country Grain) but I do agree the standards have slipped

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
            Boffin

            Re: Umm, so not baking soda then?

            "Well I am a chemist, I had a shower this evening and then baked bread ( wholemeal + brown Country Grain) but I do agree the standards have slipped"

            A proper chemist wears a lab coat with many and varied stains, has acid-eaten holes and is likely to spontaneously combust at any moment. Or maybe even explode if thrown too hard onto the back of a chair.

            1. Chemist

              Re: Umm, so not baking soda then?

              "explode if thrown too hard onto the back of a chair."

              Well I carry a scar on my thumb from a flying bit of glass from an explosion ( it was ricochet that bounced around the safety-screen and went through a thick glove) Scary thing was it was only about 5 g of material that exploded. Will that do ?

              1. Wommit

                Re: Umm, so not baking soda then?

                You're not really trying are you?

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Umm, so not baking soda then?

                  @Chemist: Not if you've still got the finger...... unless you also managed to damage the lab, taking a wall down for example........

                  1. Chemist

                    Re: Umm, so not baking soda then?

                    No, but I do know someone ( in fact i chaired the inquiry) who had an explosion where a glass thermometer was ejected with such force that a remenant punched through a glass window 20 feet away just missing the 'owner' of the explosion.

            2. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad
              Paris Hilton

              Re: Umm, so not baking soda then?

              "A proper chemist wears a lab coat with many and varied stains"

              There is a debate, howewer, whether a true master should be able to identify all those stains. Some claim that only an apprentice will keep track of the stains, and to the master it matters not. Others claim that you cannot be a master unless you truly know all the substances around you.

              /btw, icon represents a dilemma, not stains!/

    2. JamesTQuirk

      Re: Umm, so not baking soda then?

      Reminds me of the "air scrubbers" problem, in Stargate Universe, in 1st episode ...

      I think grinding up Cars with internal combustion engines, into iron fillings, tipping into ocean for plankton to eat, suck carbon from atmosphere may work also, after all CARs & idiot owners caused a lot of the problem ...

      However, with the methane release issue currently, maybe firing a missile full of, maybe, Aluminum Powder, in a spray between Earth & Sun, thats drifts in same orbit may help to cool polar regions, like a pair of sunglasses, BUT I believe it's too late, because PEOPLE, while the world drowns in the results of their muck, are watching a whale on WIDE SCREEN Home Theatre in Airconditioned Comfort, B4 driving round corner to shops in a V8, to get Macca's or KFC, in ad break.....

    3. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Umm, so not baking soda then?

      If it absorbs CO2 then it will become baking soda.

      Reminder: When heated, baking soda emits CO2 and becomes washing soda - which is why there's a fine line between what works in a cake and what tastes foul.

  2. Mage Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Baking soda gives off CO2

    So must be Washing Soda?

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      If you take baking soda and ,,,bake it, it gives off CO2 hence it's use as a raising agent, after it has released the CO2 whot is left in the cake is Sodium Carbonate, washing soda. Schoolboy chemistry!

      I find it difficult to buy washing soda where I live so I do bake Bicarb in a baking tray to get washing soda so that I can clean my thermos flask of tea stains.

      The article is reporting it backwards, one would use Na2CO3 to capture CO2 which will then become sodium bicarbonate.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Chris G

        Your last paragraph is correct, your first one is not entirely- when sodium bicarbonate is heated it gives off water and carbon dioxide, and in the absence of anything else you would indeed get sodium carbonate. But what is usually sold as baking powder is actually sodium bicarbonate plus tartaric acid. This is so that the reaction when they get damp gives off twice as much carbon dioxide and the sodium ends up as sodium tartrate, which doesn't taste as nasty as sodium carbonate. Sodium bicarbonate on its own is quite good at removing tea stains, especially if it is added to the thermos followed by boiling water. I've never needed to oven bake bicarbonate.

        Of course the difficulty with this LL wheeze is that having converted the carbonate to bicarbonate, you are still left with the question how to recover the carbonate for re-use - which means you still have to deal with the carbon dioxide. You have got it out of the process gas stream, now what are you going to do with it? Convert all the world's limestone to bicarbonate?

        1. Steve Knox Silver badge

          Re: @Chris G

          @Arnaut the less

          Chris G is correct, because he says baking soda.

          Anyone who does even a smattering of baking can tell you that baking soda and baking powder are two different things, not to be confused under any circumstances.

          1. Cliff

            Re: @Chris G

            Some countries just don't sell baking soda, only baking powder, probably causing the confusion.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: @Chris G - @Steve Knox

            You were in such a hurry to prove me wrong you didn't read my post very carefully. He referred in the same para to "raising agents".

            Straight sodium bicarbonate (known in some places as "baking soda" but the box in my kitchen is labelled "Bicarbonate of soda") is used in cooking where there will be an acid present to complete the reaction, for instance lactic acid in yoghurt. "Baking powder" is used in neutral environments and contains its own acid. In neither case is thermal decomposition of sodium bicarbonate to sodium carbonate desirable because it tastes nasty. That was why I was trying to clarify because many people are confused by the terminology "baking soda". My mother was for one.

      2. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge
        Trollface

        @Chris G

        >>I find it difficult to buy washing soda where I live so I do bake Bicarb in a baking tray to get washing soda so that I can clean my thermos flask of tea stains.

        And what is your tip for cleaning anoraks?

        1. JamesTQuirk

          Re: @Chris G

          Get mum to do it ...

  3. DougS Silver badge

    Carbonates are how the Earth deals with excess CO2

    It is a very slow process for the Earth so it can't keep up with our use of fossil fuels, of course.

    If this really worked on a large scale so we could greatly reduce the amount of CO2 we're putting in the atmosphere by removing it at the source. Not that this would resolve the issue, even if we captured all the CO2 we emitted from fossil fuel use (net; by capturing some from the atmosphere or oceans to balance that which is emitted and not captured) I'm sure there would still be a certain segment of people calling for an end to fossil fuel use. They'd just come up with another reason why.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Carbonates are how the Earth deals with excess CO2

      And reason #1 will be, "OK, you've captured all this CO2. Where do you plan to put it all?" And trees aren't a wholesale option since they can only absorb so much at a time, so most of any you release in a forest stays in the air where it can affect fauna (in our terms, 2% concentration starts to affects us and gets worse from there).

      1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

        Re: Carbonates are how the Earth deals with excess CO2

        "Where do you plan to put it all?""

        Under a mountain of ice?

      2. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: Carbonates are how the Earth deals with excess CO2

        Well.. there's a lot of abandoned/closed open pit mines. Bury it there maybe?

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Carbonates are how the Earth deals with excess CO2

          The biggest issue with that aspect of carbon sequestration is ensuring these mines are gas-tight. Otherwise, the gas will just seep back out and you're back to square one.

        2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Carbonates are how the Earth deals with excess CO2

          Perhaps you are unfamiliar with the concept of open pit? Hint the clue is in the name.

          1. Mark 85 Silver badge

            Re: Carbonates are how the Earth deals with excess CO2

            I'm very familiar.... use the landfill concept. Put in the used capsules, cover with dirt that was was removed from the mine (and it's mostly dirt). Repeat until full.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Carbonates are how the Earth deals with excess CO2 - "Put in the used capsules"

              So, let me get this clear, you are planning to fill disused mines with capsules containing huge amounts (billions of tonnes a year) of capsules containing a soluble and relatively unstable bicarbonate? We're going to have the problem of finding disused mines where it never rains and which are a long way away from any water table, and transport the stuff there.

            2. ravenviz Silver badge
              Devil

              Re: Carbonates are how the Earth deals with excess CO2

              There's a big hole. That'll probably do.

        3. Thorne

          Re: Carbonates are how the Earth deals with excess CO2

          "Well.. there's a lot of abandoned/closed open pit mines. Bury it there maybe?"

          A total waste of time and money. The tech might have a use for low cost scrubbers for space or diving but cleaning up coal is the most retarded idea in existence.

          Plants clean up CO2. Ploughing fast growing crops into the soil traps carbon and improves the soil. Growing trees to use for housing traps carbon.

          Plenty of ways which are far easier to clean up CO2 than burying a chemical mess.

      3. Doctor_Wibble

        Re: Carbonates are how the Earth deals with excess CO2

        Damn. This inconvenient limited absorption thing scuppers my favourite of piping power station exhaust through huge forests... obviously all completely sustainable because you chop them down periodically in batches and bury them deep under a desert somewhere, some of it rots thus magically generating mud where stuff can grow and if you wait a few million years the deep stuff will have turned into coal and you can start the whole cycle again. Hurrah!

        All makes perfect sense as long as you don't look too closely. The real trick is to sell enough copies of the book before anyone spots it.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Carbonates are how the Earth deals with excess CO2

          And just forget that the rotting vegetation creates methane and other gasses that are way worse than CO2.

          1. Jim Birch

            Re: Carbonates are how the Earth deals with excess CO2

            "And just forget that the rotting vegetation creates methane and other gasses that are way worse than CO2"

            You are missing some key science: Methane doesn't last that long in the atmosphere - order of a year - it is actually unstable and oxidises. OTOH carbon dioxide is very stable - for practical purposes you could say it lasts indefinitely.

            Unlike methane, CO2 won't disappear in the atmosphere. It remains in the atmosphere until removed by some other process, like photosynthesis or absorption by the ocean.

            1. Vic

              Re: Carbonates are how the Earth deals with excess CO2

              Methane doesn't last that long in the atmosphere - order of a year - it is actually unstable and oxidises

              OK, so methane sits around doing its greenhouse-effect thing for a year or so. And then it oxidises.

              Into ... ?

              Vic.

              1. JamesTQuirk

                Re: Carbonates are how the Earth deals with excess CO2

                COP20: Global Arctic Methane Emergency #2 (12-5-2014 in Lima Peru)

                https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQkNxuQ0DoI

                Dr Jennifer Francis - Arctic Sea Ice, Jet Stream & Climate Change

                https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAiA-_iQjdU

                A little from column A & a little from Column B, Personally I think it's rising methane disrupting Gulf Stream ....

      4. John Tserkezis

        Re: Carbonates are how the Earth deals with excess CO2

        "Where do you plan to put it all?"

        Australian polititians were touting a great idea they were given. Dump all the CO2 underground in unused mining tunnels. After all, there's a few of those in Australia that are filling with water causing sink holes and otherwise making a nuisance of themselves.

        Now you know why we make fun of them. (the polititians, not the holes)

      5. Red Bren
        Joke

        Re: Carbonates are how the Earth deals with excess CO2

        >Where do you plan to put it all?

        Bury it in a tectonic subduction zone and let it sink to the centre of the earth, You'll never see it again...

      6. Jtom Bronze badge

        Re: Carbonates are how the Earth deals with excess CO2

        What garbage. Exhaled air is 4% CO2, so by your book, CPR would be harmful to the recipient. As long as the oxygen content remains high enough, CO2 levels pretty much doesn't matter - the lungs won't absorb it. Some complain of a headache if exposed to several percent of CO2 for hours, but that may be due do other contaminates in the air. Only when CO2 displaces O2 is there a real problem - but that would be true of ANYTHING.

        If you did (needlessly) capture CO2, where to put it is obvious - backfill the coal mines where you extracted it to begin with.

        1. Chemist

          Re: Carbonates are how the Earth deals with excess CO2

          "Evidence shows, however, that CO2 does create an immediate threat to life at a concentration of only 15% in air due to the toxicological impact it has on the body when inhaled at this concentration"

          "Depending on the CO2 concentration inhaled and exposure duration, toxicological symptoms in humans range from headaches (in the order of 3% for 1 hour), increased respiratory and heart rate, dizziness, muscle twitching, confusion, unconsciousness, coma and death (in the order of >15% for 1 minute)."

          http://www.hse.gov.uk/carboncapture/assets/docs/major-hazard-potential-carbon-dioxide.pdf

        2. Vic

          Re: Carbonates are how the Earth deals with excess CO2

          As long as the oxygen content remains high enough, CO2 levels pretty much doesn't matter - the lungs won't absorb it.

          That's completely untrue. CO2 in the inspired gas *will* be absorbed - or at least it will prevent CO2 from the body being expelled. It's just that hypercapnia is a prefeable condition to hypoxia.

          Some complain of a headache if exposed to several percent of CO2 for hours, but that may be due do other contaminates in the air

          No - hypercapnia is an issue. It leads to an assortment of symptoms - the worst, IMO, being panic in hyperbaric situations. This has undoubtedly led to the deaths of quite a few divers.

          Only when CO2 displaces O2 is there a real problem - but that would be true of ANYTHING.

          Again - untrue. Try breathing a normoxic O2/CO2 mixture. You'll only take a couple of breaths before you get into respiratory distress[1]. It's a horrible thing to go through.

          backfill the coal mines where you extracted it to begin with.

          And what form are you going to use to store it? Something soluble? That'll be nice for your water table.

          Vic.

          [1] The urge to breathe in just about everyone[2] is driven by blood pH. CO2 in your body dissolves in the blood, leading to carbonic acid, which lowers that pH. The lower the pH, the greater the urge to breathe. Carbon dioxide is an active chemical in our lives; it would be an enormous mistake to consider it an inert gas.

          [2] There are, apparently, a (very) few chronic CO2 retainers whose ability to determine blood pH has failed. I'm fairly sceptical of this, but I've not bothered to research it in detail, as it's not going to apply in the environment[3] in which I'm going to be involved...

          [3] Diving :-)

      7. Crisp Silver badge

        Re: "OK, you've captured all this CO2. Where do you plan to put it all?"

        How about we hydrogenise it and turn it into a black sticky tar that we can safely store a few miles underground?

    2. James Loughner

      Re: Carbonates are how the Earth deals with excess CO2

      Hummmm

      So how many tones per year of Washing soda is needed to balance the co2 emissions??

      Also how much energy is need to make it via the Solvay process+the encapsulation process???

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Carbonates are how the Earth deals with excess CO2

        Depends. I hear the stuff is reusable, meaning it captures the CO2, then you process it back into sodium bicarbonate, releasing the CO2 in a controlled setting where it can be collected, and so on.

    3. Ilmarinen
      Thumb Down

      Re: Carbonates are how the Earth deals with excess CO2

      Can't remember the exact figure, but the anthprogenic CO2 flux is small compared with the natural CO2 cycle. Ergo, "can't keep up" is improbable.

      IMO Carbon Capture seems to be an expensive business desperatly looking for taxpayer subsidy. And it involves basicly the same processes as that nasty "Fracking". If it does ever go ahead large scale I hope the CO2 stays captured - a large scale leak under a populated area could asphixiate thousands.

      BTW, have a look at Murray Salby's work, suggesting that CO2 emmisions are a function of temperature, rather than the IPCC story of "CO2 causes Global Warming". The ice cores do show CO2 lags temperature...

      1. oolor
        Holmes

        Re: Carbonates are how the Earth deals with excess CO2

        >The ice cores do show CO2 lags temperature...

        Until you whack them enough times with a hockey stick...

    4. The Axe

      Re: Carbonates are how the Earth deals with excess CO2

      What uses CO2 to live?

      Plants!

      The excess CO2 in the atmosphere will cause more plants to grow. So global warming is a good thing (except for those who get drowned) as the rest of us will get more food to eat.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Carbonates are how the Earth deals with excess CO2 - plants

        You do know that many plant species are temperature sensitive, and that changes in climate are already causing ranges to shift? Raising the temperature will push wheat growing north where there is less sunlight, lowering yields.

        And plants have evolved to cope with current levels of CO2. Raising them will inevitably affect leaf pH and so affect gas interchange efficiency. Adding more of something doesn't always make it better.

        On one hand I agree that change in climate is inevitable. However, doing a big experiment to see just how fast we can raise CO2 levels without causing major ecological change is...typical of human beings. We nearly went extinct without our help once, in the Mesolithic when the Sun dimmed a bit. We may be more successful this time round.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If this works, will the 2000's be known as the great starvation years, as food crops are reduced through lack of CO2?

    1. Big John Silver badge

      No they won't. Large scale sequestration is never going to happen, just as reduced fossil fuel burning won't happen, and the same with catastrophic climate change (except for big glaciers maybe).

      Sequestration tech is like big renewable energy systems; they only exist because taxpayer monies are being shoveled into them, and the moment the money stops, they will grind to a halt.

    2. Dave Bell

      Here in Europe we grow about three times as much wheat per hectare as the Americans. That's enough to swamp the free markets, cause a price collapse, and bankrupt the farmers.

      It's not atmospheric CO2 that does that. We're using a lot of energy to produce nitrogen fertilisers, as Europeans have been doing for a century or so. For the last half-century or so we have been using pesticides to control weeds (taking nutrients from the soil) and plant diseases. All these things cost the farmer money, and excess use hits diminishing returns. Mr. Worrall can tell you all about that.

      We stopped burning wheat straw in the field about a quarter-century ago. It gets cultivated into the soil and slowly rots, so it isn't good at locking up CO2. But it helps stop soil erosion from wind and rain. Some bright and fast-talking city type have bought the site of a disused sugar factory in these parts and are building a straw-fired power station. but that will take phosphates away from a farm, and they're not something you can easily synthesize. You can get phosphates in sewage sludge, but the heavy metal contamination is a problem, and the supermarkets scream and run away from food grown with that nutrient source.

      Industry in general has been dumping toxic waste for centuries. And some of those things don't go away of their own accord. The North Sea is littered with reefs and sandbanks of sewage sludge contaminated by heavy metals. Compared to that, CO2 is easy to get at.

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