from the hot-on-the-heels-of-fresh-water-from-air dept.
Siphoning carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere could be more than an expensive last-ditch strategy for averting climate catastrophe. A detailed economic analysis published on 7 June suggests that the geoengineering technology is inching closer to commercial viability.
The study, in Joule, was written by researchers at Carbon Engineering in Calgary, Canada, which has been operating a pilot CO2-extraction plant in British Columbia since 2015. That plant — based on a concept called direct air capture — provided the basis for the economic analysis, which includes cost estimates from commercial vendors of all of the major components. Depending on a variety of design options and economic assumptions, the cost of pulling a tonne of CO2 from the atmosphere ranges between US$94 and $232. The last comprehensive analysis of the technology, conducted by the American Physical Society in 2011, estimated that it would cost $600 per tonne.
Carbon Engineering says that it published the paper to advance discussions about the cost and potential of the technology. "We're really trying to commercialize direct air capture in a serious way, and to do that, you have to have everybody in the supply chain on board," says David Keith, acting chief scientist at Carbon Engineering and a climate physicist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Scientists just worked out a way of rapidly producing a mineral capable of storing carbon dioxide (CO2) - giving us a potentially exciting option for dealing with our increasingly overcooked planet. Magnesite, which is a type of magnesium carbonate, forms when magnesium combines with carbonic acid - CO2 dissolved in water. If we can produce this mineral at a massive scale, it could safely store large amounts of carbon dioxide we simply don't need in our planet's atmosphere.
[...] Being able to make the mineral in the lab could be a major step forward in terms of how effective carbon sequestration might eventually be. "Using microspheres means that we were able to speed up magnesite formation by orders of magnitude," says [Ian] Power. "This process takes place at room temperature, meaning that magnesite production is extremely energy efficient."
[...] With a tonne of naturally-occurring magnesite able to capture around half a tonne of CO2, we're going to need a lot of magnesite, and somewhere to put it all as well. As with other carbon capture processes, it's not yet clear whether this will successfully scale up as much as it needs to. That said, these new discoveries mean lab-made magnesite could one day be helpful – it puts the mineral on the table as an option for further investigation.
Earlier this week, Y Combinator, which has backed companies like Airbnb and Reddit, put out a request for startups working on technology that can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
"It's time to invest and avidly pursue a new wave of technological solutions to this problem — including those that are risky, unproven, even unlikely to work," Y Combinator's website says.
Y Combinator is looking for startups working on four approaches that they acknowledge "straddle the border between very difficult to science fiction" — genetically engineering phytoplankton to turn CO2 into a storage-ready form of carbon, speeding up a natural process in which rocks react with CO2, creating cell-free enzymes that can process carbon, and flooding Earth's deserts to create oases.
Sam Altman, the president of Y Combinator, acknowledged that these ideas are "moonshots," but said that he wants to take an expansive approach to the issue.
Related: Negative Emission Strategy: Active Carbon Capture
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Carbon Capture From Air Closer to Commercial Viability
Y Combinator Spreads to China
Lab-Made Magnesite could be Used for CO2 Capture
NASA Announces CO2 Conversion Challenge, With Up to $750k Awards