By Lynn L. Bergeson
On January 10, 2022, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced that a team of its researchers has developed a promising approach to control methane emissions and remove methane from the air using zeolite clay. Zeolite clay is inexpensive and abundant. The MIT team found that, when treated with copper, the material is very effective at absorbing methane from the air even at low concentrations. According to researcher and Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Desiree Plata, Ph.D., this process is advantageous over other approaches to removing methane from the air, as other methods tend to use more expensive catalysts that require high temperatures. The method converts methane into carbon dioxide that, according to Plata, is much less impactful in the atmosphere than methane. Methane is about 80 times stronger as a greenhouse gas (GHG) over the first 20 years, and approximately 25 times stronger for the first century.
MIT researchers still have outstanding engineering details to address in this process. To do so, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) awarded a $2 million grant for MIT to continue to develop specific equipment for methane removal in places with concentrated sources of methane, such as dairy barns and coal mines. Plata reported that the next phase of the project will focus largely on ways to structure the clay material in a multiscale, hierarchical configuration to demonstrate a proof of concept that this method can work in the field.