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IIT Madras Professor Rajnish Kumar Receives Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award

Rajnish Kumar, a faculty member in the chemical engineering department at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM), has received the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar award in the field of engineering for the year 2022 for his work on sequestering carbon dioxide (CO2), a process that returns carbon to the earth. Prof. Kumar has been working on the topic for three years and received the prize for his study.

When automobiles burn fuel, CO2 is created. CO2 is emitted by industries, particularly cement, chemical, and synthetic fuel manufacturing. While vehicle design improvements have lowered sulphur and nitrogen oxide gas emissions, the issue, according to Prof. Kumar, is to absorb CO2 from the environment, particularly from industry.

CO2 emissions were less than 300ppm before industrialization, but they have risen to 420ppm in the previous 100 years and are expected to reach 1000ppm in the future. “The point is whether 1000ppm will result in change in weather conditions or will there be other changes,” he said.

According to the professor, India now emits 2.8 billion tons of CO2 every year. Researchers are attempting to reduce CO2 emissions in the cement, steel, and chemical sectors since it is easier than capturing CO2 released by automobiles.

The second scientific problem that scientists are tackling is the development of a low-cost material for CO2 collection.

“Today, it costs $4.50 to capture one kilogram of CO2 from a point source.” This indicates that in order to create 1 kilowatt hour of power, about 1 kilogram of CO2 must be produced by coal. The cost of power will quadruple solely to capture CO2. “The issue arises because of the scale,” he stated.

While researchers have discovered methods to store carbon, the issue is how to keep CO2 once it has been gathered. Then, of course, there’s the matter of converting CO2 into carbon and oxygen, which necessitates the use of hydrogen.

“CO2 was produced as a result of the combustion of oxygen.” However, in order to break down CO2, we require both energy and hydrogen. “We don’t know how to store hydrogen, which is a low-density gas,” he notes.

Prof. Kumar believes that planting trees is not a feasible option since farming consumes water. He claims that a kilo of sugar requires 3,000 kg of water to create. “We are upsetting the balance. The difficulty is to educate people, which will not happen immediately; it will take a longer period of consistent work. Can we truly make a difference in 10 to 15 years? We need to make plans for the next 500 years. That is the type of forward-thinking thinking on which we rely,” he continues.

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Source: The Hindu

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