BY: SWIKAR OLI
The hard work of nano-engineers at the University of California, San Diego may bring us as close as we’ve ever been to reducing harmful CO2 levels in the ocean. Lab results show the nano-robots converted 90 per cent of CO2 in water under controlled conditions.
The robots are thin as a human hair, tube-like, and function with the help of micro-motors. The enzyme carbonic anhydrase coats the robots, which “helps convert CO2 into calcium carbonate, a solid material found in various animal shells.”
The carbonic anhydrase coating “speeds up the reaction between carbon dioxide and water to form bicarbonate,” a benign byproduct, according to Gizmag. The study describes the robots’ movements as autonomous, moving through the water freely at 100 micrometers a second, with five minutes of work reducing 88 per cent of CO2 in seawater.
Oceans take in CO2 from the atmosphere and get acidified by the process. It is estimated that 30-40 per cent of CO2 released through human activity ends up in oceans, lakes and rivers. Acidification lowers oxygen levels, impedes the biological processes of some organisms and results in coral bleaching. CO2 threatening the biology of oceans is considered by many to be the second worst effect of the greenhouse gas, next to global warming.
So far, the robots aren’t self-propelled but that may not be an issue for long. For the study, engineers added hydrogen peroxide to the water to create bubbles that move the robots along. They are looking to create a robot that moves with the help of its surrounding environment. As Fast Company learned from researcher Kevin Kaufmann, “just recently we fabricated a magnesium-based micro-motor capable of moving in salt water without the addition of external fuels. A micro-motor such as these would be very useful for the removal of carbon dioxide from ocean water.”