Tiny motors may help remove carbon dioxide from the oceans

Nanoengineers at the University of California, San Diego have designed tiny machines that could one day clean up carbon dioxide pollution in the oceans.

“We’re excited about the possibility of using these micromotors to combat ocean acidification and global warming,” said Virendra V. Singh, one of the co-authors of the proof of concept study  published in in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

The micromotors are six-micrometre-long (much smaller than the width of a human hair) tubes, with  an outer polymer surface that holds the enzyme carbonic anhydrase. This speeds up the reaction between carbon dioxide and water to form bicarbonate. 

Calcium chloride, which is added to the water solutions, then helps convert the bicarbonate to calcium carbonate.

In their experiments, within five minutes, the micromotors removed 90% of the carbon dioxide from a solution of deionized water and were almost as effective in a sea water solution, removing 88 percent of the carbon dioxide in the same timeframe.

“In the future, we could potentially use these micromotors as part of a water treatment system, like a water decarbonation plant,” said Kevin Kaufmann, another co-author of the study.

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