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What is a Carbon Scrubber?

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  • Written By: M. McGee
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2016
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A carbon scrubber is a device that removes carbon dioxide from the air. These devices have several applications in industry and the medical fields. They are also common in enclosed environments such as submarines, spacecraft and biological research areas. Carbon scrubbers have become more common since the beginning of the 21st century as a way to reduce the level of manmade carbon emissions released into the environment.

Manmade carbon emissions are believed to have a harmful effect on the earth’s environment. As a result, a large number of world governments tightly control industrial carbon emissions. These industrial emissions are controlled using carbon scrubbers. The devices attach to various carbon-emitting locations and purify the waste air before it is released to the environment.

There are several technologies used to remove carbon, but most of them center on absorption. Carbon likes to bond on a molecular level with several different substances. Carbon scrubbers take advantage of these chemical processes to remove the carbon from the oxygen. After working for a specific amount of time, which varies based on the chemicals used and the rate of carbon cleaned, the reacting material becomes saturated with carbon. In most cases, this material is then waste, although efforts are being made to find a low-cost, reusable, reactant.

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Carbon scrubbers have non-industrial applications as well. They are common in locations with extremely tight environmental specifications, such as intensive care units in hospitals. These areas use two different types of carbon scrubbers; personal and environmental. An environmental carbon scrubber works very similarly to its industrial counterpart. These scrubbers are commonly attached to the area’s ventilation system.

With a personal carbon scrubber, a mask is fitted to a person. This mask has several filters on it which pull the carbon from the person’s breath. These filters usually have a special type of carbon within them called activated carbon. Activated carbon will absorb normal carbon and other airborne impurities at an exceptional rate. Some varieties of personal masks can be cleaned and reused while others are disposable.

The last main area that commonly contains carbon scrubbers are within enclosed environments. Humans, and most other animals, naturally exhale carbon dioxide. In an enclosed environment, this slowly increasing carbon dioxide, coupled with the slow reduction in oxygen, would rapidly make the air unsuitable. In these cases, the carbon scrubber pulls the carbon off the oxygen, allowing a set amount of air to last significantly longer than it would otherwise. This variety of carbon scrubber is generally part of the air ventilation and filtration system.

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