TECH

Scientitsts Create Carbon Nanofibres Using Nothing But Air

20/08/2015 12:11 BST | Updated 20/08/2015 17:59 BST

Scientists have found a way to create carbon nanofibres, one of the strongest materials on earth, using nothing but the carbon dioxide we breathe out.

A team at George Washington University in the US who are responsible for the discovery say their method is not only a cheaper way to produce the highly desirable material but also a productive use for one of the most problematic gases at the heart of climate change.

Carbon nanofibres have a wide variety of applications including reinforcing sophisticated body armour.

Bulletproof suit lined with ultra-thin sheets of carbon nanotechnology:

carbon nanotubes

All the process requires is a pot with two electrodes -- a cathode and an anode -- in a solution of lithium carbonate and lithium oxide.

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When a voltage is passed across the solar-powered system that uses both infrared and visible light to power the reaction, carbon is deposited at one of the electrodes.

Despite the potential this reaction has to change how we harvest unwanted gases such as carbon dioxide, one of the main setbacks is the lack of demand for carbon nanofibres.

MIT Review points out that the high cost of production has put manufacturers off using the material frequently.

"Until now, carbon nanofibres have been too expensive for many applications," said Prof Stuart Licht of George Washington University.

However, some researchers are cautious about placing too much hope in Licht's discovery.

Dr Katy Armstrong, a chemical engineer at the University of Sheffield said that one of the main problems would be scaling the experiment up.

"As they are capturing CO2 from the air, the process will need to deal with huge volumes of gas to collect the required amount of carbon, which could increase process costs when scaled up," she explained to the BBC.

While Licht maintains that the experiment is still worth pursuing, others are also unsure of whether it will absorb enough gas to significantly reduce our carbon dioxide output.