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The race to develop viable hydrogen fuel cells for cars has been moving swiftly through the gears in recent years and now engineers from the University of Delaware think they have found a way they could also capture CO2.

By using an innovative hydrogen-powered electrochemical system, the Delaware team discovered a way to grab 99% of CO2 from the air. The breakthrough has been 15 years in the making, with the research team, led by UD Professor Yushan Yan, having worked tirelessly to find a solution to the conundrum that hydroxide exchange membrane (HEM) fuel cells, though greener than the acid-based fuel cells commonly used today, cannot breathe properly when they come in contact with CO2, making them no better than a gasoline engine.

The eureka moment came when the research team began looking at the flaw as a potential benefit.

“Once we dug into the mechanism, we realised the fuel cells were capturing just about every bit of carbon dioxide that came into them, and they were really good at separating it to the other side,” said Brian Setzler, assistant professor for research in chemical and biomolecular engineering and paper co-author.

What was needed was some game-changing technology that could capture and separate the CO2 in a device that sat somewhere ‘upstream from the fuel cell stack’.

“It turns out our approach is very effective. We can capture 99% of the carbon dioxide out of the air in one pass if we have the right design and right configuration,” said Yan.

The initial device used to demonstrate the technology was the size of a 12-ounce soda: for automotive use it would need to be scaled to around the size of a gallon of milk.

“We have some ideas for a long-term roadmap that can really help us get there,” added Setzler.

The research, reported this week in Nature Energy, is another example, like our story yesterday on an American startup that has attracted $80 million of investment to develop its promising new electrochemical carbon capture technology, of the momentum building in both hydrogen innovation and carbon capture.

The post Cars that double as carbon capture devices first appeared on Innovators magazine.