Alex Baumhardt

(Oregon Capital Chronicle) A metal found in the Earth’s crust could be used to attract and remove climate-warming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Oregon State University scientists studying ways to filter greenhouse gases from the air recently discovered that when molecules of the metal vanadium are bound with oxygen molecules as peroxide, they can pull carbon dioxide from the air. The carbon molecules can be siphoned off using a small amount of energy that’s then funneled into other uses, like making limestone for buildings or enhancing the atmospheric carbon in greenhouses, accelerating plant growth.

The process could help improve nascent technologies in capturing carbon dioxide from the air to slow the impacts of global climate change. The discovery was published in the journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry in December.

Carbon dioxide is responsible for about two-thirds of the atmospheric heating causing global climate change, and it is primarily released in the burning of fossil fuels for energy, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Vanadium is often added to steel to strengthen it, and is found in many other minerals such as iron ore, and is often mined alongside uranium. May Nyman, the Oregon State chemistry professor who led the research, said vanadium and peroxide could be used in filters behind industrial fans to trap the carbon dioxide.

“It’s not a magic elixir. It’s new science. It’s a new approach. It’s a new tool,” she said.

This discovery could eventually help slow the Earth’s heating when paired with rapid decarbonization in the transportation sector and with the expansion and improved health of the Earth’s own carbon dioxide magnets: forests, grasslands, wetlands and other natural plant-rich ecosystems.

“There needs to be a balance of everything: conservation, forests, marshes, new technologies,” Nyman said. “We’re adding another tool to the toolbox. We’re adding knowledge, and understanding the reaction of removing carbon dioxide from the air.”

She and others on her team, which includes scientists at the University of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, continue to study other metals similar to vanadium that could attract and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Nyman’s project is one of nine projects nationwide working on finding ways to remove carbon dioxide from the air anywhere and not just where it is emitted. The projects received $24 million in 2021 from the U.S. Department of Energy.