Scientists have developed a new method to create carbon fibers that’s not only more efficient but potentially less expensive than current techniques.

Carbon fiber is a valuable building material that well-known for its strength, light weight and electrical conductivity – properties that make it a desirable building material in the automotive and aerospace industries. Its primary hindrance, however, is cost.

A team of scientists led by George Washington University chemistry professor Stuart Licht have managed to capture carbon dioxide directly from the air and use an electrochemical process that converts it into carbon nanofibers and oxygen.

Best yet, the desirable attributes of carbon fibers are enhanced at the nanoscale.

Licht said the breakthrough is more than just an easier and cheaper way to produce a high-value product – it’s also a method of storing and sequestering carbon dioxide in a useful, stable and compact manner. What’s more, if renewable energy is used to power the process like the solar power system the team recently demonstrated, it results in a net removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

As a result, the technology could simultaneously serve as a powerful weapon against climate change. Given an area less than 10 percent of the size of the Sahara Desert, Licht proposes, the method could eliminate enough carbon dioxide to bring global atmospheric levels back to pre-industrial levels after only 10 years.

Pollution image via tentree