Vanderbilt Engineers Capture CO2 To Create Super Materials

Posted at 7:06 AM, Jun 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-19 11:55:40-04

We hear a lot of negative news regarding carbon dioxide. Now, a Nashville-based engineer is looking at carbon dioxide not as a problem, but as an opportunity. He's using it to make "super materials." 

Vanderbilt University's Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Cary Pint, is taking carbon dioxide right out of the air. 

"We actually have a set-up that takes carbon dioxide from the lab air that we all breathe. It sucks it into the system where we basically split apart the carbon and the oxygen. The carbon that we get can be rearranged into these 'technological super materials,'" he said. 

"Technological super materials" sound like something out of a comic book. Pint says, these super materials are created using carbon nanotubes, or hollow tubes composed of carbon atoms.

"They have mechanical properties 10 times the strength of steel at 1/6th the weight. They have conductivity up to the levels of copper. They have thermal properties that are competitive with diamonds," he said. 

These carbon nanotubes do not occur naturally so they have to be created in a lab. Historically, creating these nanotubes has been very expensive, now Pint is making this so called "black gold" much cheaper using electrochemistry. 

He says cutting costs is the key to changing the world. 

"You’re never more than two feet away from a product or material that can be transformed by carbon nanotubes," Pint said. 

One day he hopes to take toxic emissions and solve real-world problems, like building better tires and batteries and making materials harder and stronger.