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Breaking the Cycle – Brian Long

power-plant-815799_1280CO2, or carbon dioxide, is the most prevalent greenhouse gas emission caused by human beings. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2011, approximately 6,702,000,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide was released into Earth’s atmosphere as a result of fossil fuel combustion for electricity generation, transportation and other human activities. As a result, the EPA has called for a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants by 2030, which is referred to as the Clean Power Plan.

According to Dr. Brian Long, one of the most effective methods for reducing carbon dioxide emissions for existing power plants is CO2 capture, or “scrubbing.” Unfortunately, these capture mechanisms are currently very energy intensive, creating a vicious cycle of burning electricity to remove the carbon dioxide byproduct of creating electricity.

Long’s JDRD project could potentially change all of that.

DSCF2234“We are trying to develop low cost plastic membranes that allow the separation of greenhouse gases from other non-harmful gases,” said Long. His JDRD team is in the process of designing advanced bilayer membranes that do just that.

In its first year, Long’s JDRD team made significant advances in membrane mediated CO2 separation by developing new materials for us in these membrane systems, which function with remarkable efficiency.

“Once the membranes are made, there’s almost zero energy input,” said Long. The membranes passively filter the gases with no additional power requirements, effectively breaking the energy cycle.

Senior student researcher Kevin Gmernicki has been the overall project leader since January 2014.

Analysis of these new membranes indicates functionality that can approach, and often exceed Robeson’s upper bound, the metric by which all CO2-separation membranes are evaluated. In the second year of this project, Long’s team has manufactured some of the new membranes and begun testing them with new instrumentation that was custom constructed within their labs.

Long’s JDRD project has benefited from the work of four graduate students; Kevin Gmernicki, Eunice Hong, Nolan Mitchell and Lauren Brown. Each student has been responsible for meaningful contributions to the project, with Gmernicki and Hong listed as the two primary researchers, each with two publications in progress as a result of this JDRD project.