Carbonating beverages with atmospheric CO2

Thursday, 06 February, 2020

Carbonating beverages with atmospheric CO2

At a time when carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere are increasing, there have been shortages in industrial supplies of the gas over the past decade, impacting applications including fizzy beverage supply and food production. Now, CSIRO has developed a new technology that pulls CO2 out of the atmosphere and puts it into beer and other beverages.

Dubbed ‘Airthena’, the new technology was developed in partnership with Monash University, Energy Infrastructure and Resources, and H2H Energy. It draws on recent breakthroughs in advanced filtration methods to solve challenges around the water-food-energy nexus, including sustainable resources and environmental value and resilience.

A common method companies currently use to generate CO2 onsite relies on burning natural gas, which is subject to market price and supply fluctuations. CO2 can also be bought from a supplier, which can involve expensive long-distance transportation and be prone to shortages.

Airthena, on the other hand, captures CO2 directly from the air using tiny sponges known as metal–organic frameworks (MOFs). It requires only about 2 kWh of electricity per kilogram of CO2 — equal to around 20c/kg at minimum solar energy prices of $0.1/kWh at its current scale.

“As it requires just air and electricity to work, Airthena offers a cost-effective, efficient and environmentally friendly option to recycle CO2 for use onsite, on demand,” said CSIRO project lead Dr Aaron Thornton, who added that the solution has broad applications across a wide range of industries.

“It … provides a more reliable source of CO2 for use in small-scale applications ranging from beverage carbonation to controlling pH in swimming pools and industrial cleaning,” he said. Airthena could also be valuable for the chemicals industry, which uses CO2 as a feedstock for making other compounds and materials such as methanol and methane.

Airthena is capable of capturing two tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere a year, making it suitable for small-scale applications right now, but Dr Thornton said it is scalable. And while the technology won’t make any immediate impact on cutting global CO2 emissions due to its scale, it is expected to help businesses by providing a more reliable source of the gas for their everyday operations, while reducing their carbon footprint.

“We are now exploring options for taking Airthena to market, which include reducing the cost of the unit for small-scale applications and having it tested to ensure it meets food quality standards, or working with the food production industry to scale up the technology for larger applications,” Dr Thornton said.

Image caption: Dr Aaron Thornton’s research into developing Airthena could be a boon for beer.

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