[Excellent R&D] From Harmful to Useful
Sang Byoung-in (Department of Chemical Engineering)
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It is undoubtable that global warming and air pollution are two of the most serious and urgent problems that countries all over the world need to worry about as members of the planet. However, due to the industrial development and the necessities of life, goals and promises of reducing harmful gas are not successfully being met by the majority of the countries that pledge to do so. Sang Byoung-in (Department of Chemical Engineering), in an attempt to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, has suggested a way to make use of the bountiful resources around us in his research by the name, ‘Power to Gas Technology for Stability of Future Energy Provision.’
Previously, there has been an approach suggested to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It was to capture and store it, then bury it deep underground or under the ocean ground so that it would not cause any pollution in the air. This method is not being pervasively used because of the unfitting geological condition of Korea and its tremendous cost considering the amount of carbon dioxide that needs to be handled. To counteract this complication, Sang researched methods to utilize the captured carbon dioxide.
By capturing the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and separating hydrogen and methane in it, a new source of energy is created. Since methane gas is used in almost every aspect of our society, Sang’s research could greatly contribute to alleviating the current situation concerning air pollution and energy depletion. “Hydrogen could also be derived, but methane is a better option as it has a much wider range of usage and that it is far easier to store. Hydrogen would require costly equipment to deposit, unlike methane, which could be stored within affordability.”
There are several reasons why methane gas is such a good product out of carbon dioxide. Since methane gas is commonly used in our daily life, converting carbon dioxide into methane gas would be both economically and environmentally favorable. It also means this new source of energy will be extremely convenient and effortless to supply. Since 90 to 100 percent of Korea is covered with methane gas pipelines, the newly generated energy will be conveniently supplied through the current infrastructure. Moreover, unlike other gases such as hydrogen, methane gas is easy to store because it does not require a special tank for storage. Hydrogen is difficult to store due to its minuscule molecular size, demanding special tanks of higher price. Most importantly, methane gas is incomparably more widely used—for power, heat, mobility, and more.
Furthermore, Sang’s research also focuses on cultivating the microorganism that produces methane on its own only by feeding on carbon dioxide and hydrogen. Such a microorganism is called hydrogenotrophic methanogen (methane-producing organism that feed on hydrogen), which could be cultivated in water of 55 to 65 degrees Celsius. Inside water, just by absorbing carbon dioxide and hydrogen, the microorganism could produce methane. The problem is, these microorganisms are quite fastidious and challenging to harvest. They are strictly anaerobic, meaning they cannot survive once they encounter oxygen.
To overcome this challege, Sang is currently researching to successfully nurture the microorganism. In addition, his further goal of research is to cultivate methanogen that does not require hydrogen. The reason why the microorganism feeds on hydrogen is because they need electrons in it. However, Sang wants to cut down the cost of nurturing these microorganism by removing hydrogen in their production. To provide what they need for survival, Sang will research deeper on feeding the microorganism directly from the electrode so that the process of microorganism producing methane would be more effective in terms of cost and productivity.
Jeon Chae-yun email@example.com
Photos by Lee Jin-myung
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