Cambridge, MA – Greenhouse gases are a major proponent of climate change, but researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology think they may have found a way to contain them. They have discovered one unlikely product to be useful in grabbing methane gases out of the air — clay particles found within kitty litter. The scientists tested this theory by putting zeolite clay — which contains tiny pores that act as a sort of sponge — in a copper solution and then releasing it into the air as carbon dioxide.
Sending carbon dioxide into the air can sound counterproductive as it is also known as a greenhouse gas, but methane is known to trap heat in the atmosphere 80 times more than carbon dioxide. The U.S. Department of Energy decided to bank on this new discovery by providing the MIT researchers with a $2 million budget. The department hopes to use the clay compound for coal mine vents and dairy barns to capture methane before it goes out into the atmosphere.
As interesting and hopeful as this might sound, the zeolite won’t be the end-all to climate change. In fact it will only be able to make a small change, if that, because it’s still in the research phase. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), methane is being pushed into the air in higher numbers than ever before. Methane levels have increased 7 times per billion in 2021. A lot of methane gases are caused by human activity. Landfills are an example of methane emissions into the atmosphere which contribute to global warming.
A more meaningful and impactful solution would be to reduce methane emissions at the biggest source — plugging oil and gas wells that are constantly leaking methane. We also need to focus on fighting the fossil fuels that are being emitted into the atmosphere every day. While this project is a light of hope, it remains to be seen if it is a long term solution.