Su joins inaugural Scialog initiative, investigates negative emissions science


Xiao Su
Illinois chemical and biomolecular engineering professor Xiao Su and colleagues found an economical and sustainable method for separating cobalt and nickel from each other for battery recycling purposes – making spent battery electrodes a secondary source of these valuable metals. Photo by Fred Zwicky

Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Professor Xiao Su was awarded funding through the inaugural initiative called Scialog: Negative Emissions Science, co-sponsored by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Su joins one of eight teams of Scialog Fellows investigating novel approaches to tackle greenhouse gases accumulating in the Earth’s atmosphere. Scialog is short for “science + dialog.” The 2020 Scialog Meeting on Negative Emissions Science (NES) brought together early-career scientists for multidisciplinary input on the topic, including chemistry, physics, materials science, biology, engineering, and geophysics.

Su developed the proposal “Electrifying humidity-swing adsorption for DAC by modulation of redox-polymer hydration” during a virtual meeting in November along with two other early-career Scialog Fellows: Burcu Gurkan, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Case Western Reserve University, and Shaama Mallikarjun, an assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science at the University of Southern California. 

The goal of the project is to mitigate global warming by reducing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere—a task that is much more difficult than addressing the problem at the source where levels are more concentrated. 

“We are seeking new approaches to use renewable energy for driving carbon capture, and achieving net zero or even negative emissions by electrification,” Su said. “Materials design can play an important role, especially discovering new adsorbents for capturing these low concentrations of carbon dioxide from air.”

Today’s carbon dioxide levels are about 410 parts per million, which means this greenhouse gas accounts for less than one percent (0.041%) of molecules in the atmosphere. Still, these levels have surged in recent decades and represent a doubling of pre-human concentrations.  

The awards provide funding of $55,000 for each researcher, to support their efforts in developing materials and processes to economically capture and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Each Scialog proposal was subject to peer review and only those proposals seen as highly innovative and with the potential to transform their fields of research were selected.

Read more about the Scialog initiative, including the full list of Scialog teams, from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement.

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Claire Benjamin