LUT explores the manufacture of graphene and carbon nanotubes from atmospheric carbon dioxide

LUT University's research targeting the elimination of carbon dioxide emissions is branching out to the manufacture of carbon products. A new study demonstrates a carbon negative manufacturing process that transforms carbon dioxide, considered waste, with emission-free electricity into carbon products, such as graphene, which is used in electric car batteries.

Image of material structure

Fossil coal will not be available as a raw material in the long term. However, carbon dioxide in atmospheric circulation is a valuable material that can, with emission-free electricity and new technologies, be transformed into a number of products to replace fossil raw materials.

LUT has a lengthy history in research on, for instance, the production of synthetic fuels and food proteins from carbon dioxide captured from the air. The new research project Neo-Carbon Materials, funded by the Technology Industries of Finland Centennial Foundation and Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation, is a continuation of the research projects Neo-Carbon Energy and Neo-Carbon Food.

"In the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, the key is to capture carbon dioxide from the air, sea water or combustion gases and turn it into long-lasting products that also function as carbon sinks. Our new study continues to support the transition to a net zero emission society," explains Tuomas Koiranen, Professor of Chemical Process Systems Engineering at LUT.

The research project is tackled by teams of experts headed by Koiranen and Jero Ahola, Professor of Energy Efficiency in Electrical Systems. The teams are studying the manufacture of e.g. graphene, amorphous carbon, and carbon nanotubes. Graphene, for example, is used as a component in batteries of electric cars, and amorphous coal is employed in wastewater purification. Carbon nanotubes are an emerging raw material in the battery industry.

"The different forms of carbon are difficult to manage, and obviously, we won't know beforehand how all of the manufacture processes will turn out. Nevertheless, all of the carbon structures we are studying are valuable materials that have existing markets," states Koiranen.

Continuous manufacturing revolves around electrolytic reduction at a high temperature, with lithium metal salt as the electrolyte. The technology is compatible with a net zero emission energy system, and its application does not generate problems involving land or water use.

The topic area is attracting interest on the international research arena.

"At the level of individual electrolytic cells, results have already been achieved. To our knowledge, however, entire electrolytic stacks or continuous processes have yet to be developed. If we are able to create a cost-efficient, carbon negative manufacturing process for one or more of the materials we are studying, we believe there will be industrial demand for it."

More information:

Tuomas Koiranen, Professor of Chemical Process Systems Engineering, tel. +358 50 435 7414, 
Jero Ahola, Professor of Energy Efficiency in Electrical Systems, tel. +358 40 529 8524, @JeroAhola

Read next: