New Technology Captures Emissions While Vehicles Are on the Move

Mobile carbon capture (MCC) stops vehicle emissions from entering the atmosphere. Further development of the technology can turn it into a key driver of the decarbonisation of the transport industry.

Autor*in Christian Nathler, 07.26.23

Translation Luisa Ilse:

The transport sector is currently responsible for about a quarter of the world’s carbon emissions. By 2035, it is projected to be the largest source of greenhouse gases. It’s no wonder that decarbonising the transport sector is a top environmental priority. 

However, the transition to cleaner transportation poses significant challenges for regulators, consumers and industries alike. While battery electric vehicles have proven effective for light-duty, short-haul trips in urban areas, they fall short in more demanding applications. 

Now, an innovative solution — mobile carbon capture (MCC) — is gaining steam. Researchers say it could revolutionise emissions reduction for trucks, trains, planes and boats by connecting vehicles to CO2 distribution infrastructure and capturing carbon at the source.  

What is mobile carbon capture?

Simply put, MCC refers to the process of capturing CO2 at the point of emission — namely, from the vehicle while it is in motion — before it is released into the atmosphere. The technologies for capturing carbon can be integrated into various mobile platforms. Meanwhile, the captured CO2 can be stored temporarily and then either utilised in industrial processes or permanently stored in underground geological formations through carbon sequestration.

Prototype captures 40 percent of the carbon of a semi-truck

In November 2022, researchers published the results of a groundbreaking pilot-scale 165 kW MCC facility integrated into the back of a Class VIII semi-truck. The vehicle was able to run a thermal-swing absorption process, commonly used for large stationary carbon capture systems, in the space between the truck and the trailer. The entire process for CO2 absorption — solvent regeneration, CO2 compression, and storage — took place on the road. 

The results were promising. At a 50 percent engine load, the MCC system achieved a maximum 42 percent capture rate, surpassing the potential CO2 reductions achievable with organic Rankine cycle (ORC) technology. Furthermore, the system relied solely on waste heat from the exhaust to drive the separation process. 

© Remora
Remora is piloting an MCC device that captures carbon directly from the tailpipe of semi-trucks.

MCC technologies are improving fast

More recently, researchers at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia designed a more efficient MCC system. To address energy, space, and process constraints, they utilised a family of porous materials with cage-like structures called metal-organic frameworks (MOFs). MOFs are ideal for capturing CO2 as they store it without undergoing chemical reactions, enabling easy separation with low energy consumption.

The team designed two specialised MOFs. One captured CO2 from gas mixtures, even in humid conditions, and another stored the captured CO2 efficiently. Again, exhaust heat was used to regenerate the MOFs and separate CO2. They calculated the optimal pressure and power requirements based on typical daily driving conditions of semi-trucks. 

Remarkably, the system captured 50 percent of emitted CO2 at 96 percent purity, requiring only 7.6 percent additional engine power to operate and fitting in a compact volume of less than 1.5 cubic metres. 

Mobile carbon capture: The road ahead 

As technology continues to advance and research progresses, mobile carbon capture has the potential to play a crucial role in achieving deep decarbonisation in the transport sector.

Further development is necessary to improve efficiency, scalability, and cost-effectiveness. Balancing energy and power requirements with effective CO2 capture is essential, as is the development of infrastructure for CO2 distribution and storage. Other critical steps include overcoming weight and space constraints in vehicle integration, along with ensuring competitive costs and favourable regulations. Finally, determining the most productive carbon capture and storage methods are vital for successful implementation as well as to gain acceptance among the public, industry, and regulators.

Sailing Towards Sustainability: bound4blue’s Wind-Powered Renaissance

The shipping industry is responsible for a sizeable chunk of GHG emissions. Could ancient technique paired with new tech be the answer?

Torge Peters
Mobility Transition: The Multimodal and Interconnected Way of the Future

What will climate-neutral mobility look like in the future? What digital solutions are ready for a systematic mobility transition? And how do we get there? Let's take a look...

Can Long Haul Trucks Be Powered Like Trams and Trains?

A new study has explored the feasibility of large scale overhead power line trucking.

How AI Could Drastically Drive Down the Trucking Sector’s Accelerating Environmental Impact

The trucking sector is relatively low-hanging fruit when it comes to reducing carbon emissions. Here's how AI and other technologies are seeking to revolutionise it.

The 15-Minute city: A Sustainable and Accessible Urban Future

How can we leverage technology to create more sustainable and accessible urban spaces? Perhaps 15 minute cities are the answer.

How Hitch-Hiking Could Help to Solve Germany’s Cargo Problem

Does hitching a ride only work for travellers? Or could ride-sharing for freight solve the sustainability problem of last-mile logistics?

Could Wireless Charging Revolutionise E-mobility?

Imagine a world where electric vehicles could be charged during drivetime. This world might be closer than you think.

Can AI Make Trucking More Sustainable?

Technologies such as artificial intelligence might have the potential to drastically reduce the environmental impact of the emission-heavy trucking sector.