Minerals Used in Kitty Litter Could Help Fight Climate Change – Smithsonian Magazine

by | May 19, 2022 | Climate Change

Zeolite, a clay material found in kitty litter, may be the next tool to help reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. 
GK Hart / Vikki Hart via Getty Images

Scientists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology have come up with a way to remove methane from the air by using a cheap type of clay called zeolite—a mineral also found in cat litter. 

In a study published in the journal ACS Environment Au, the researchers packed particles of copper-treated zeolite into a reaction tube, which they heated from the outside, per an MIT statement. They then pushed streams of gas with various methane levels through the tube. When treated with copper, they found that zeolite converts methane into carbon dioxide, even at low concentrations. 

“When people hear that [the process creates CO2], they say, ‘Yikes, that’s not good—I know CO2 is bad for the environment,’” Desiree Plata, an engineering professor at MIT and one of the authors of the paper, tells Fast Company’s Adele Peters. “But it turns out that methane is actually much worse, from a global warming perspective. What this allows us to do is bring immediate climate benefit into the Earth system and actually change global warming rates in our lifetime.”

Methane is 120 times more powerful at warming the planet than carbon dioxide on a per-mass basis, write the authors. The colorless, odorless gas can come from a variety of sources: slash-and-burn agriculture, dairy farming, coal and ore mining, wetlands, melting permafrost, and drilling and fracking for oil and natural gas. 

“Pushing air through cat litter is not easy,” Plata tells Fast Company. “You can imagine all of the technical challenges that would result—blowing powder around, and then heating that …

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