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5 in 5: Five ways technology will change our lives within five years.

Capturing and transforming
CO2 to mitigate climate change

Graphic design of smoke stack with car and cow as well as large blue circular arrow

What’s happening today

The existential threat of climate change is largely driven by the excess release of greenhouses gases into our atmosphere, mainly carbon dioxide—CO2—which traps heat and leads to the overall warming of our planet.

CO2 concentrations have risen more rapidly in recent decades than at any other time in human history, driven primarily by fossil fuels burned for power and transportation1 2.

This will likely lead to higher levels of carbon dioxide by 2025 than those seenduring the warmest period of the last 3.3 million years3.

The prediction

Governments and corporations, including IBM, are cutting CO2 emissions to help keep the global temperature from rising an additional 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels —a tipping point beyond which polar ice could melt causing catastrophic damage4. But the expanding use of fossil-fuel burning power sources jeopardizes those efforts and our chances to meet that target5. Large-scale CO2 capture technologies and solutions are an essential part of our journey to net zero emissions.

Woman working on a laptop in office with peers and large screen monitor surrounding her
In the next five years, we will be able to capture CO2 more efficiently and transform it into something useful.

Solutions for the future

Until now, typical approaches to capture emitted CO2 have included chemical absorption and using membranes to filter the CO2 from other gases. But these processes, while efficient in terms of the amount of CO2 removed, are still too energy intensive and costly for widespread global use.

We need new materials and processes to capture CO2 on a global scale. Using the accelerated discovery cycle, we will understand what materials and methods exist today so scientists can identify areas ripe for discovery.

seven people scattered around an office space working

Developments at IBM Research

A team of IBM researchers are creating a cloud-based knowledge base of existing methods and materials to capture CO2. It employs IBM technology for annotation and natural language processing to mine information contained in patents and papers and applies AI to digest information and present findings to the researcher, like a ranking of the best-known materials for CO2 separation.

Based on this knowledge, scientists are able to define desired properties of molecules to be considered for CO2 capture and separation processes. Teams can then employ AI algorithms to predict the optimal molecules to be used as building blocks for more effective polymer membranes for CO2 separation.

Once captured, CO2 can be put to use. IBM researchers are also working on a sustainable materials development platform for harnessing CO2 as a feedstock or raw material for monomers and polymers such as plastic. The new CO2-based materials are designed with a focus towards recyclability that allows for recovery and reuse.

Progressing carbon capture and sequestration before it’s too late requires an acceleration of the discovery process through the close integration of high-performance computing infrastructure, sophisticated AI systems, and AI-guided automatic lab experiments to test large numbers of chemical reactions. The reactions should illustrate the design rules for molecules and chemical processes that enable the efficient synthesis of materials optimized for CO2 capture, separation and conversion.

The goal over the next five years is to make CO2 capture and reuse efficient enough to scale globally so we can significantly reduce the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere and, ultimately, slow climate change.

Electronic lab equipment meant to measure air particles
  1. Revision of the EPICA Dome C CO2 record from 800 to 600-kyr before present:
  2. IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty:
  3. Atmospheric CO2 during the Mid-Piacenzian Warm Period and the M2 glaciation:
  4. Climate tipping points—too risky to bet against:
  5. Committed emissions from existing energy infrastructure jeopardize 1.5 °C climate target: