Ironically, in an era when carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are increasing, there have been shortages in industrial supplies of the gas over the past decade, which has been a problem for food producers and beverage manufacturers alike.
Now, CSIRO has found a way to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere and put it into beer and other beverages.
Industrial CO2 is used in applications ranging from making fizzy beverages to food packaging and controlling the atmosphere in agricultural greenhouses.
The new technology is called Airthena, and was developed in partnership with Monash University, Energy Infrastructure and Resources and H2H Energy.
Airthena captures CO2 directly from the air using tiny sponges known as metal-organic frameworks, and can be scaled up for commercial production.
CSIRO project lead, Aaron Thornton, says the solution has broad applications across a wide range of industries: “As it requires just air and electricity to work, Airthena offers a cost-effective, efficient, and environmentally friendly option to recycle CO2 for use on-site, on-demand.
“It also provides a more reliable source of CO2 for use in small-scale applications ranging from beverage carbonation to controlling pH in swimming pools, and industrial cleaning.”
Airthena only needs about 2kWh of electricity per kilogram of CO2, equal to around 20 cents per kilogram at minimum solar energy prices of $0.1 per kilowatt-hour at its current scale.
Jon Murphy is General Manager of Murphyfresh Hydroponics, which uses CO2 in its greenhouses to grow tomatoes and other produce.
“We spend a lot of money on buying in carbon dioxide, so we’re eager to see a new technology that can deliver CO2 on-site, on-demand,” says Murphy.
Airthena is capable of capturing 2t of CO2 from the atmosphere a year, making it suitable for small-scale applications right now, but Dr Thornton says it is scalable.
While Airthena won’t make any immediate impact on cutting global CO2 emissions due to its scale, it will help businesses with a more reliable source of the gas for their everyday operations, while reducing their carbon footprint.
Dr Thornton adds: “We are now exploring options for taking Airthena to market, which include reducing the cost of the unit for small scale applications and having it tested to ensure it meets food quality standards, or working with the food production industry to scale up the technology for larger applications.”
Airthena could also be valuable for the chemicals industry, which use CO2 as a feedstock for making other compounds and materials such as methanol and methane.
The collaboration and development of Airthena was supported by $725,000 from the Science and Industry Endowment Fund.