You are here: Home / GW Innovations / Technologies Available

Solar Thermal Electrochemical Photo (STEP) Carbon Capture Process

Technology #09-000x-licht

Questions about this technology? Ask a Technology Manager

Download Printable PDF

Image Gallery
Solar Thermal Electrochemical Photo (STEP) Carbon capture Process is a method to capture and remove atmospheric carbon dioxide, using both the visible part of sunlight and the thermal energy of the sunlight.STEP uses both the visible part of the sunlight and the thermal characteristic of it to capture and split atmospheric carbon dioxide into solidified carbon or carbon monoxide that may be constructively used for a variety of industrial applications.
Categories
Researchers
Stuart Licht, Ph.D.
Professor of Chemistry
Managed By
Jerry Comanescu
Licensing Associate jcomanescu@gwu.edu (202) 994-8975
Patent Protection

US Patent Pending

Solar Thermal Electrochemical Photo (STEP) Carbon capture Process is a method to capture and remove atmospheric carbon dioxide, using both the visible part of sunlight and the thermal energy of the sunlight. Traditional solar cells/panels convert only up to 40% of the sun’s thermal heat to solar energy. The remaining 60% of the sunlight is untapped as it relates to the production of solar energy. 

STEP uses an electrolysis cell consisting of molten lithium carbonate (Li2CO3) as the electrolyte. Using the thermal energy of the sunlight, the cell is heated to a temperature above the melting point of lithium carbonate. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is then bubbled through the cell. The CO2 reacts with the lithium carbonate, and depending on the reaction temperature attained, either solid carbon is deposited at the cathode or carbon monoxide is produced. This conversion of carbon dioxide into solid carbon is facilitated by the visible rays of the sun that drive the reaction, when the visible rays are converted to electricity through photovoltaic techniques. 

Thus, STEP uses both the visible part of the sunlight and the thermal characteristic of it to capture and split atmospheric carbon dioxide into solidified carbon, at temperatures below 900ºC, or carbon monoxide, at temperatures above 900ºC, which may be constructively used for a variety of industrial applications.

STEP process can be used to maximize the use of sun’s energy to form staple chemicals such as iron, bleach, aluminum, etc., and remove, convert and use carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas to form energetic carbon rich materials and hydrogen. This process also reduces the need to cool solar cells/panels, as the deleterious heat generated from the solar cells is directed to the electrolysis reaction chamber and is also used as a secondary source of energy in the chemical conversion process. Using the STEP process Dr. Licht’s laboratory has also achieved CO2-free production of Iron from iron ore. 

Stage of Development

  • Thorough testing at the laboratory scale
  • Carbon capture and iron production demonstrated

Applications

  • Capturing CO2 industrially with an earlier unattained solar efficiency of 34%-50%; thus using solar energy with an efficiency as high as 50% to capture and prevent release of CO2 into the atmosphere. 
  • Extracting iron from iron ores, like magnetite or hematite (Fe3O4 or Fe2O3) without releasing carbon dioxide into atmosphere. 
  • Generating a variety of fuels like synthetic jet fuel and synthetic diesel, plastics, and medicine by using the CO generated in the process. 
  • Generating a variety of metals and bleach. 
  • Treatment of waste streams from a smokestack as STEP is immune to poisonous effects. 

Advantages

  • No atmospheric release of CO2 
  • Reduction of existing atmospheric levels of CO2 
  • Cost effective process 
  • Fuel generation as side products, which may be used effectively in variety of other industrial applications. 
  • Solidified carbon formed in the process  
  • Industrial plants can be set up in new geographic locations, even close to urban centers or places with sunlight