How Do CO2 Scrubbers Work?

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A CO2 scrubber is essential for removing CO2 from the air. Air polluted with CO2 is pumped into the scrubber, which reaches an ion exchange resin that isolates the CO2 molecule from other gases. The polluted air is then cleaned and pumped out of the CO2 scrubber, which then must either be discarded or reused.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is found everywhere in the air. We largely rely on CO2 for heating, electricity, and other everyday uses such as keeping fizzy drinks carbonated. Despite CO2 only making up around 15% of power plant emissions, it is responsible for 60% of the greenhouse gases on earth. 

The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased since the beginning of the industrial revolution, and now we need to cut emissions as soon as we can, to save our planet. 

So, what is one solution to our CO2 emission crisis? One way to tackle our problem is the use of CO2 scrubbers. CO2 scrubbers are used to remove CO2 from the air. These scrubbers have been around for decades and are most commonly used inside submarines and spacecrafts. 

How CO2 Scrubbers Function

Even though there are many types of CO2 scrubbers, most of them function the same and all remove CO2 from the air. Although there have been advances in technology over the years, CO2 scrubbers are still easy to use. 

Firstly, air that is polluted with CO2 is pumped into the CO2 scrubber. 

Secondly, the polluted air reaches an ion exchange resin, attracting any CO2 molecules that are present, isolating them from other gases. It is important to note, you will need to periodically clean the ion exchange resin for the CO2 scrubber to work effectively. 

Color Changing Soda Lime

Other scrubbing techniques can also be used to isolate other greenhouse gases, such as sulfur. However, as CO2 is the biggest issue, it gets the most attention in the scrubbing business. 

Lastly, the polluted air is then cleaned (scrubbed) and pumped outside the CO2 scrubber. During the removal process, humid air is used to remove carbon, which is then discarded or reused. In the future, scientists believe that the collected carbon could be used to grow algae for food or fertilizers. 

CO2 Scrubbers That Use A Liquid Solvent

The most common method of isolation inside a CO2 scrubber is the use of a liquid solvent. The liquid solvent binds with the CO2 inside the scrubber to separate/isolate the components. 

Aqueous ammonia and monoethanolamine (MEA) are most commonly used in CO2 scrubbers today, however, whichever solvent is used, the process is fundamentally the same. 

After CO2 combustion and collection, the solvent is added which absorbs the CO2, activating a reverse chemical reaction, resulting in a new compound forming. 

This new compound is separated from the other gases, forming a more solid-state. The new compound is then pumped into a new chamber inside the scrubber, where it is reheated. Once heated, the CO2 molecule is then moved to storage. The solvent is then reused. 

Other CO2 Scrubbing Methods

Solvents are the most common CO2 scrubbing method, however other methods include:

  • Using adsorbents to attract CO2 molecules where they can be removed.
  • Using selectively permeable membranes that allow gases to pass through, except CO2 molecules.
  • Cooling gases to force CO2 to condense and separate. 

In addition to all of these CO2 scrubbing methods, it is also required to have a CO2 sensor to ensure CO2 levels are safe. 

Applications That Use CO2 Scrubbers

Power Plants

As previously mentioned, CO2 scrubbers are used for carbon capture and storage to reduce the impact power plants have on climate change. As fossil fuel-burning power plants emit more than one-third of the total CO2 emissions in the world, they are classified as one of the main drivers of greenhouse gases.  

Although we have the technology to build greener energy, many power plants are not inclined to switch to alternative sources of energy, which is why CO2 scrubbers are still heavily used. 

Space Shuttles/Spaceships

If the crew inside a space shuttle/spaceship was to continuously breathe in CO2 in an enclosed space, it would likely be lethal. On the space shuttle orbiter, a regenerative CO2 removal system (RCRS) is used to continuously remove CO2 in the air. The use of CO2 scrubbers allows shuttle missions to last longer in space without having to replace the sorbent canisters

Apollo 13 CO2 Scrubber

Submarines

In submarines, a CO2 scrubber uses a regenerative liquid absorbent to continuously remove CO2 from the surrounding air inside the submarine. The liquid absorbent utilized is always reused.

Aquariums

Many aquariums use CO2 scrubbers connected to protein skimmers to remove CO2, which helps maintain a stable pH level in the tank. Maintaining pH levels is beneficial for improving the health of corals and fish. The CO2 absorbing media used inside the scrubber strips and captures CO2. 

Rebreathers

Carbon dioxide scrubbers are used to remove exhaled air in life support systems such as rebreathers. An example of this is the “rebreather system” used in scuba diving to breathe underwater. 

Summing Up CO2 Scrubbers

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is all around us. Unfortunately, there are not enough plants on land or in the ocean that can sequester the amount of CO2 we produce. Therefore, we use technology such as CO2 scrubbers to remove CO2 from the air. 

Inside a CO2 scrubber, air polluted with CO2 is pumped into the scrubber, which reaches an ion exchange resin that isolates the CO2 molecule from other gases. The polluted air is then cleaned and pumped out of the CO2 scrubber, which then must either be discarded or reused.
If you have any questions regarding CO2 or other testing kits used for gases, do not hesitate to contact our world-class team at Atlas Scientific.

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