The Spark

These Tiny Bubbles May Save the Planet

In episode 4 of The Spark, carbon-absorbing nanobubbles could be the key to cutting greenhouse-gas emissions

Tiny Blue Bubbles Designed to Help Save the Planet

There are two ways to cut down on our greenhouse-gas emissions: Reduce the amount we make or limit how much of what we make actually gets into the atmosphere.

It’s the second solution that researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory want to tackle with cute caviar-sized bubbles that can absorb carbon dioxide.

Photographer: Alan Jeffries/Bloomberg

The polymer bubbles are filled with the entirely pedestrian ingredient of baking soda, long known to absorb carbon dioxide, but it’s the bubbles themselves that are the breakthrough. They’re permeable, which means that CO2 gets trapped and absorbed by the baking soda solution inside them. In theory, you could affix the bubbles to the inside of a power plant smokestack and trap the CO2 before it is released into the atmosphere.

Photographer: Alan Jeffries/Bloomberg

They’re also reusable. The CO2 can be released again by heating the bubbles in a sealed container. The released CO2 can be kept in tanks or safely pumped back underground while the bubbles can go back into the smokestack and start their world-saving job all over again.

Bloomberg’s profile of Lawrence Livermore’s carbon-capturing technology is the latest installment of The Spark, which looks at innovators finding solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems.

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