Stopping CO2 Cold - Y Magazine
Check out the latest podcast episode Listen
At the Y

Stopping CO2 Cold

BYU professor’s “game changer” may be the solution to CO2 emissions.

Last year President Obama announced ambitious plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 32 percent by 2030. Chemical engineering professor Larry L. Baxter (BS ’83) is developing a technology that is up to the challenge.

Baxter has created a system that separates carbon dioxide from other gases—and prevents it from escaping into the air—by freezing it. This cryogenic carbon-capture system gobbles up 99 percent of the CO2—and costs half as much as conventional methods.

“We took a completely different approach,” says Baxter. “This process cools flue gas to the point that CO2 condenses as a solid and then separates from the remaining gas.” The approach earned him recognition in Popular Science’s “New Faces of Energy” article.

Baxter’s system freezes the CO2 to minus 130 degrees Celsius and separates the dry ice from the gas. Then when everything is heated back up, the CO2 is pressurized to become a liquid so it can be stored or used for other purposes, such as oil recovery.

The method is a “technological game changer for CO2 capture,” says Carl Bauer, former director of the National Energy Technology Laboratory. “What Dr. Baxter has done is develop a new approach to the process that significantly improves the energy and economic performance of cryogenic gas separation.”

Currently only one power plant in the world is doing conventional, full-scale carbon capture—a Canadian government–supported facility in Saskatchewan. Meanwhile, power plants across the world put an estimated 10,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every day.

Baxter, who has spun his research into a startup, Sustainable Energy Solutions, hopes to pilot his cryogenic technology in a full-scale commercial facility—one five times the size of his current working unit and 100 times the capacity—within seven years.

“This technology allows coal to continue to supply reliable energy,” Baxter says. “The EPA doesn’t think it’s conceivable [that] the U.S. is going to stop using fossil fuels, including coal and natural gas. It’s even less conceivable that the rest of the world will do so. If fossil fuels are to continue their roles in providing reliable, low-cost energy, and if we are serious about addressing climate change, these technologies are going to play major roles in the future.”