Shooting for the moon: 3 radical innovations to remove atmospheric CO2

November 10, 2020 by  
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Shooting for the moon: 3 radical innovations to remove atmospheric CO2 Tali Zuckerman Tue, 11/10/2020 – 01:00 Removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere may be as difficult as getting to the moon.  That’s because every day, human activity pumps out 38 tons of CO2 into the air. Currently, our atmosphere is saturated with around 415 parts per million (ppm) CO2, a number we urgently need to reduce to 280 ppm to avoid the most devastating climate impacts.  But to take out just one ton of CO2, we must first filter one Roman colosseum’s worth of air. Several pioneers in the field are developing revolutionary systems to do just that. During the “Carbon Removal Moonshots” session in late October at VERGE 20, co-founders from innovative carbon removal initiatives Project Vesta, Charm Industrial and IdeaLab joined moderator Tito Jankowski, co-founder of the online community Air Miners, on the virtual stage to share the stories and missions behind their innovations. 1. Project Vesta: Enhancing natural weathering to capture CO2 in ocean-bound volcanic sand Launched on Earth Day 2019, Project Vesta aims to enhance natural weathering processes to accelerate carbon capture and storage in the world’s oceans. The nonprofit organization plans to do this by accelerating Earth’s carbonate-silicate cycle, in which volcanic rock is weathered by rain and creates a chemical reaction that sequesters CO2 from the air. Over time, this carbon turns into limestone on the ocean floor and melts back into the Earth’s core.  During the session, co-founder Kelly Erhart explained the natural inspiration for the project: “This [process] has been working for millions of years and slowly locking up trillions of tons of carbon dioxide into the earth over geologic time scales. We looked at this and we asked: How can we speed this up?” Specifically, Project Vesta has developed a way to take olivine, a naturally abundant, green volcanic rock, and grind it into sand to be distributed over beaches around the world. After the olivine sand is set in place, ocean waves, tides and currents will be left to do the rest.  If we want to create a world that we know is possible, we have to be able to imagine it. Erhart believes that the process is not only feasible, but scalable. Olivine is found on every continent, and makes up over 50 percent of Earth’s upper mantle. The solution does not compete for land use or other economic activities, and only requires that 2 percent of global shelf seas are covered with a few millimeters of olivine sand to sequester one year’s worth of human CO2 emissions, Erhart said. Of the three innovations presented, Project Vesta comes in at the lowest estimated price point. The organization aims to reach $10 per ton of CO2 equivalent, which is five to 10 times cheaper than direct air capture (DAC) or other techniques. So far, Project Vesta has raised $2.5 million in philanthropic and corporate donations (including a large purchase from Stripe) and is deploying its technology on a few heavily instrumented pilot beaches to monitor the rate of weathering and any effects on ocean life. The team believes that any impact will be beneficial, as olivine deacidifies the ocean and therefore helps support the life and health of marine ecosystems. Ultimately, the project’s goal is to advance this technology all over the world. It hopes to establish an open-source integrated algorithm and protocol that will enable governments, nonprofits and companies to deploy this solution with predictable results. The Charm Industrial team. 2. Charm Industrial: Turning biomass waste into CO2-dense bio-oil Charm Industrial is working to reverse the process of crude-oil production — that is, to take the carbon stored in biomass, turn it into CO2-dense biofuel through fast pyrolysis (superheating) and inject it back into the Earth’s crust. The startup is on a mission to “return the atmosphere to 280 ppm” through its technology, which it claims is more permanent and cost-effective than traditional nature-based offsets and direct air capture (DAC) methods.  Currently, Charm makes its bio-oil from excess sawdust and wood, but it plans to use agricultural residues such as corn stover, rice straw, sugar cane and almond shells in the future. Its aim is for the process to have additionality, meaning that if the feedstock was left unused, such residues would be left in fields to rot and emit CO2 back into the air.  The bio-oil Charm produces has properties similar to crude oil but with half the energy content and a very high carbon content. This, along with its tendency to form a solid over time, make the product safe for injection into existing oil wells, according to the company. Further, the oil is less likely to leak back into the atmosphere or groundwater than CO2 gas (or CO2 dissolved in water) when injected into the same wells, according to Charm, and the oil also can better help prevent seismic activity in large underground caverns created by past mining activities.  “What’s interesting about sequestration of bio-oil is that it sort of closes the carbon cycle that started about 200 years ago with the initial removal of oil from these formations,” said Charm co-founder Shaun Meehan. “There’s enormous infrastructure that exists to get oil out of the earth, and we just need to run it backwards.” Charm says its model is unique because it plans to use small-scale facilities. Meehan explained that previously, large biomass facilities have been unsuccessful because they quickly depleted nearby biomass stores and caused prices to skyrocket. By opening multiple smaller plants, Charm hopes to have a more stable quantity of biomass to work with. What does it cost for this form of sequestration? Charm’s current projections are around $475 per ton of CO2 equivalent for the first few years — a number it hopes to get down to $200 by its 10th plant and eventually to $50 per ton of CO2 equivalent.  Like Project Vesta, Charm believes its solution is scalable. The company already has received regulatory approval for its first injection site in Kansas. “As far as scale, there is about 140 gigatons per year of global biomass availability,” Meehan said. “If we are even able to take a small subset of that biomass, then we are able to have a meaningful impact on negative emissions.” Bill Gross, founder of Heliogen, said every acre of land served by the technology would remove 1 ton of CO2 per day, a rate of capture equivalent to that in roughly 100 acres of forest. Courtesy of Heliogen 3. Heliogen (IdeaLab): Capturing carbon with solar-powered, desert-based DAC plants Bill Gross , founder and chairman of the IdeaLab technology incubator and company Heliogen, began his presentation with several eye-opening statistics and visuals about humanity’s emissions. These included the fact that humans emit 31 times (by weight) the amount of CO2 into the atmosphere as they do garbage into their trash cans, and that to remove 1 ton of carbon from the atmosphere requires capturing a volume of air equivalent to the Colosseum in Rome.  Gross then described the solar-powered DAC process his team at Heliogen has designed. The process involves first funneling air through a desiccant (a hygroscopic substance that absorbs water), then moving it through zeolite, a mineral that effectively takes up any CO2 in the air, Gross said. Water is then removed from the desiccant and CO2 from the zeolite using solar-powered thermal energy. Ideally, this technology would be situated in desert environments so as not to compete for land and harness the brilliant power of the sun. According to Gross, every acre of land of this technology would remove 1 ton of CO2 per day, a rate of capture equivalent to that in roughly 100 acres of forest. Multiplied over 390 acres (a rectangle that fits well within the Sahara desert) this technology theoretically could neutralize all 38 gigatons of CO2 humans produce every year. Of course, this is a big ask. Actually achieving it would require that the technology be cheap enough to set up and account for any emissions created during its installation. At the moment, the estimated price of this technology is $100 per ton of CO2, according to Gross. He hopes to reach $50 per ton and dreams of getting to $25. When asked about plans for the use of CO2 after it is captured and compressed, Gross reckoned that he focuses solely on the removal of CO2, several startups will emerge to find creative uses for the gas once it can be captured at a low price. Like the previous two technologies, Gross stressed that the success of this solution relies on the global shift towards valuing CO2 emissions.  Although private players are increasingly taking responsibility for their emissions (tech companies such as Shopify, Square and Microsoft were mentioned) the public sector must move to put a price on carbon to drive change on a larger scale. Once global regulations mandate that corporations pay for their emissions, companies will look towards such innovations for cheaper ways to offset their emissions, he said. To the moon and beyond  Ultimately, a real solution to the global CO2 crisis necessitates collaboration between sectors and individual innovators, something Jankowksi’s online community Air Miners is working to facilitate. As each speaker stressed, no one solution is big enough to bring us back to 280ppm — we need several of them to go to work at once.  As Gross put it, “We need the same diversity of ideas to take [CO2] out as the people who put it up there.” The time to act is now, the speakers urged: Spread the message, get people excited and, as Jankowski said, believe that even this trip to the moon can succeed.  “If we want to create a world that we know is possible,” Erhart echoed, “we have to be able to imagine it.” Pull Quote If we want to create a world that we know is possible, we have to be able to imagine it. Topics Carbon Removal VERGE 20 Innovation Carbon Capture Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Olivine, the focus of Project Vesta’s carbon removal approach. 

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Shooting for the moon: 3 radical innovations to remove atmospheric CO2

Mobile, off-grid micro home can be configured into 20 different layouts

March 18, 2019 by  
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Architect Beatrice Bonzanigo from Milan-based firm IB Studio has unveiled a stunning, off-grid micro home that is transportable and adaptable to virtually any climate. The tiny structure, called Casa Ojalá, is just shy of 300 square feet but is equipped with a manual mechanical system that allows the space to be configured into as many as 20 different layouts. According to Bonzanigo, the flexible and transportable design of Casa Ojalá was inspired by the need to offer an alternative to the “world of static architecture.” Its versatility opens up a world of opportunity not only in terms of low-impact architecture , but also in offering an off-grid experience that lets occupants completely immerse themselves into the natural world. Related: This off-grid, lunar lander-inspired tiny home is out of this world “Casa Ojalá is a sustainable, minimal, compact and flexible product for a new comfort, away from TV or air conditioning,” explained IB Studio, which is led by Bonzanigo and Isabella Invernizzi. “The boundary between inner and outer space no longer exists. Outdoor is a substantial, fundamental and precious part of it.” The structure is a round volume with a simple layout comprised of two bedrooms, a kitchenette, a living room and a bathroom. A wrap-around, open-air terrace is used to provide a seamless connection between the micro home and its surroundings, no matter where they may be. To create its flexible design , the main structure is equipped with a manual mechanical system made up of ropes, pulleys and cranks that control the sliding wooden walls and fabric partitions. This system allows the structure to be continuously transformed into a fully-customized space, with private rooms or even one large outdoor platform. Built on a track, the house is completely mobile and can be easily assembled on-site. In terms of its sustainability, the structure is made out of eco-friendly materials along with socially-sustainable fabrics and wood features. The design’s footprint is minimal, and the project was also designed to be completely self-sustaining. The design calls for a rainwater collection system and can be installed with photovoltaic panels to generate solar energy. The Casa Ojalá design is slated to be presented during this year’s Milan Design Week. + IB Studio Via Dezeen Images via IB Studio

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This is one of the hottest places on Earth – and it just snowed there

January 10, 2018 by  
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Freaky weather. Snow in the Sahara Desert, one of the hottest places on Earth #weather #snow #desert #sahara #freaky A post shared by @ galacticauthority on Jan 9, 2018 at 10:57am PST A desert town in Algeria known as the “gateway to the Sahara ” – one of the hottest places on the planet – is covered in snow. Ain Sefra got somewhere between 1 and 15 inches of snow (depending on which source you rely) last Sunday, and this snow didn’t just land and melt away – it actually stuck around for a good portion of the day. #sahara #snow #wonderful A post shared by John D (@johnd7450) on Jan 9, 2018 at 11:20am PST Sand dunes that are traditionally a warm umber were snowy white throughout the day, giving visitors and locals a rare visual treat. The snow fell mostly in locations 3,000 feet above sea level, where it is cooler than lower elevations. Related: 2017: the year climate change spiraled out of control Snow isn’t unheard of in desert areas, especially since it can drop dozens of degrees from the day’s high. But it is pretty rare. Ain Sefra has only had snow of this magnitude three times now in the past 40 years. And this snow was surprisingly deep and resilient, further showing that the weather this year has truly been exceptional. #sahara #snow #pic #january #winter A post shared by Viral Travel (@viral.travel_vt) on Jan 9, 2018 at 5:01am PST Via CNN lead image via Deposit Photos

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This is one of the hottest places on Earth – and it just snowed there

3-hectare desert farm in Jordan can grow 286,600 pounds of veggies each year

September 7, 2017 by  
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Vegetables are sprouting in the desert at the Sahara Forest Project’s recently inaugurated launch station in Aqaba, Jordan . The project draws on the sun, saltwater , and carbon dioxide to grow food and generate clean energy and freshwater. The new three-hectare launch station will be able to grow around 286,600 pounds of vegetables a year, and produce over 2.5 gallons of water a day. The Sahara Forest Project is centered around the core technologies of saltwater-cooled greenhouses , concentrated solar power , and desert revegetation practices. They’ll pave the way for larger facilities at the Aqaba launch station, which already boasts thriving greenery. The station is around the size of four football fields, and includes two greenhouses with a total of 14,531 square feet of growing space. There’s also 34,445 square feet of outdoor planting space. Related: Sahara Desert Project to grow 10 hectares of food in Tunisian desert Photovoltaic panels will generate solar power at the station, and there are salt ponds to produce salt. Another benefit of the project is job creation; the Sahara Forest Project aims to fight poverty and promote development through green jobs . The Norwegian government and European Union are the two biggest donors to the project. Norway Minister of Climate and Environment Vidar Helgesen said, “The Sahara Forest Project demonstrates that innovative application of technology has the potential to revolutionize our land systems in a way that benefits the climate , people, and businesses.” The Sahara Forest Project has completed a pilot in Qatar and are working on a facility in Tunisia that, as of last year, was set to open in 2018 . Ultimately, the organization aims to open a 20-hectare Jordan Center, so they consider the launch station as just the beginning. Sahara Forest Project Chief Executive Officer Joakim Hauge said in the near future, Jordan could be a hub of green growth systems. + Sahara Forest Project Via the Sahara Forest Project Images © Anders Nyboe/Sahara Forest Project

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3-hectare desert farm in Jordan can grow 286,600 pounds of veggies each year

Climate change could transform one of Africa’s driest regions into a wet one

July 18, 2017 by  
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Climate change is often connected to heat waves and hot temperatures. But researchers recently found very different weather patterns could arise in a dry region of Africa : the Sahel. The area sprawls across multiple countries and is considered a transitional zone between the Sahara Desert and more humid regions to the south, and itself is prone to extreme dryness. But climate change here could trigger a monsoon circulation. The Sahel stretches from the Atlantic Ocean eastward into Sudan. According to Encyclopædia Britannica , eight months of the year at minimum are dry, and the wet season only sees around four to eight inches of rain . But all that could change if temperatures raise past 1.5 to two degrees Celsius , according to Jacob Schewe of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Anders Levermann of Potsdam University and Columbia University . Related: The sixth mass extinction is killing off wildlife 100 times faster than “normal” Dozens of computer simulations show this region of the world could get wetter under climate change, and the scientists scrutinized the simulations showing the greatest increase. They identified a self-amplifying mechanism that could intensify what Schewe called the Sahel monsoon as more water evaporates from hotter oceans and then falls on land. Regions which are nearly part of the Sahara Desert in Mali, Chad, and Niger could see as much rain as central Nigeria or northern Cameroon receive today. Rainfall could offer benefits for the Sahel, but the two researchers say adapting to the altered weather could be difficult for the region, some areas of which have been grappling with instability and war. In a statement, Levermann said, “…the Sahel might experience years of hard-to-handle variability between drought and flood . Obviously, agriculture and infrastructure will have to meet this challenge. As great as it hopefully were for the dry Sahel to have so much more rain, the dimension of the change calls for urgent attention.” The journal Earth System Dynamics published the research online earlier this month. Via the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research Images via Ammar Hassan on Flickr and Wikimedia Commons

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Climate change could transform one of Africa’s driest regions into a wet one

New genetically engineered yeast that could clean up heavy metal pollution

July 18, 2017 by  
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A genetically engineered version of the fungus in your bread and beer could help clean up the environment . A team of seven scientists at institutions in Romania and Norway developed yeast that could clean up heavy metal pollution – and their research revealed the most effective strains are able to soak up 80 percent of metal ions. Bioremediation , or using plants , microbes, or fungi to remove pollutants, is one ideal way of cleaning the environment, but there’s a few issues with the method when heavy metals are involved. Some plants just don’t grow big enough to do the job, and they can’t clean contaminated water. But heavy metal contamination poses a threat to wildlife and humans. So a team of scientists led by Lavinia Liliana Ruta at the University of Bucharest genetically engineered yeast to mop up toxic metals. Related: 7 Species That Eat Pollution for Breakfast The genes the researchers created are comprised of a cell membrane anchor, green fluorescent protein, and a metal-binding peptide. Different types of peptides aided the yeast in cleaning up different types of heavy metals; for example, cysteine peptides best scooped up cadmium and silver. Histidine peptides were up to the task for nickel and cobalt. But it could still be several years before yeast is deployed as a cleanup tool. According to the American Council on Science and Health, the next step would be to take the genetically engineered yeast from the laboratory to the real world, like in a water treatment plant. Another obstacle to yeast clean-up becoming more common is how to dispose of that yeast once a site is restored. The journal Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology recently published the team’s research online . Ruta was joined by colleagues at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and the Institute of Biochemistry of the Romanian Academy . Via Engadget and American Council on Science and Health Images via David Burn on Flickr and Wikimedia Commons

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Archaeologist suggests ancient humans helped catalyze the Sahara’s desertification

March 17, 2017 by  
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The Sahara Desert we know, with its rolling sand dunes and hot temperatures, used to be a verdant grassland with lakes. Scientists have traditionally attributed the dramatic change to a wobble in Earth’s orbital axis , but now archaeologist David K. Wright of Seoul National University is suggesting actually, humans may have been to blame. A 10,000-year or so wet period called the African Humid Period brought moisture to northern and eastern Africa. But around 8,000 years ago the moisture balance began to change. Today below the sand-dominated landscape can be found signs of rivers and plants, remnants of a greener history. In an article published in the journal Frontiers in Earth Science , Wright explained humans used to be thought of as passive agents in the end of the African Humid Period. But he thinks humans might actually have been active agents in the change. Related: The Mediterranean will become a desert unless global warming is limited to 1.5°C Wright said, “In East Asia there are long established theories of how Neolithic populations changed the landscape so profoundly that monsoons sopped penetrating so far inland.” He thinks a similar phenomenon could have happened in the Sahara. People growing crops and raising livestock could have changed the environment , exposing soil, and sunlight bouncing from the soil could have warmed the air, influencing atmospheric conditions enough so there wasn’t as much rainfall, which only added to the desertification of the Sahara. As yet, Wright needs more evidence for other scientists to fully get on board with his ideas. He said, “There were lakes everywhere in the Sahara at this time, and they will have the records of the changing vegetation. We need to drill down into these former lake beds to get the vegetation records, look at the archaeology , and see what people were doing there.” If Wright turns out to be right, his research could yield insights into how we can adapt to large scale climate change . Via Phys.org and ScienceAlert Images via Charly W. Karl on Flickr and Wikimedia Commons

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Trump team claims funding climate change is "a waste of your money"

March 17, 2017 by  
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Predictions that the environment wouldn’t fare well under Donald Trump are already coming true. His budget proposal aims to slash Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funding by 31 percent, tossing out climate change programs because as White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said, those are “a waste of your money.” Perhaps Trump’s America First budget proposal shouldn’t come as a surprise: it’s highly militaristic and hard on the arts, the sick, the poor, foreign aid, and of course climate change. Under the Trump budget, pollution cleanup efforts and energy efficiency measures would be shoved to the side. Related: Trump to purge climate change from federal government Over 50 EPA programs could be lost under the Trump budget, including large-scale cleanup efforts for the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes and assistance for Alaskan villages hurting because of climate change. States would be left to pick up the pieces. And so much for Trump’s blustering about jobs – around one in five EPA workers would lose theirs under the so-called America First budget. Mulvaney hearkened back to campaign trail language when he said, “This comes back to the president’s business person view of government , which is if you took over this as a CEO, and you look at this on a spreadsheet and go, ‘Why do we have all of these facilities, why do we have seven when we can do the same job with three, won’t that save money,’ and the answer is yes…You can’t drain the swamp and leave all the people in it. So, I guess the first place that comes to mind will be the Environmental Protection Agency.” He also doubled down on Trump’s view of climate change. “We’re not spending money on that anymore,” Mulvaney said. “We consider that to be a waste of your money.” Ultimately Trump’s budget is simply a recommendation; Congress will write and pass a budget. It remains to be seen if they’ll gut the EPA as much as Trump wishes. Via The Guardian Images via Gage Skidmore on Flickr and Eric Vance/USEPA Environmental-Protection-Agency on Flickr

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Mediterranean to become desert unless global warming limited to 1.5C, study warns

October 31, 2016 by  
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Southern Spain could look like the Sahara unless global warming is held to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, the global average temperature target governments agreed to in Paris. That is the conclusion of a new study published in the journal Science titled “Climate change: The 2015 Paris Agreement thresholds and Mediterranean basin ecosystems.” According to the analysis, if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated and global warming reaches 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), desertification could overtake many areas around the Mediterranean by the end of the century, altering ecosystems in ways not seen in 10,000 years. The researchers examined pollen cores from sediments during the Holocene, the geological epoch that began more than 10,000 years ago. They than compared the information from past conditions to predictions of future climate and vegetation under different climate change scenarios. Warming beyond 2 degrees Celsius could cause an expansion of deserts in Southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East with decidious forests replaced by shrubs and bushes. Related: 6 Brilliant designs to fight desertification The Mediterranean region is already warming at a more rapid pace than the rest of the world. Since 1880 when modern record-keeping began, average land and ocean surface temperature has increased by .85 degrees Celsius (1.5 degrees Fahrenheit). However, the Mediterranean basin has seen 1.3 degrees Celsius (2.4 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming. “The main message is really to maintain at less than 1.5C,” Joel Guiot, palaeoclimatologist at the European Centre for Geoscience Research and Education in Aix-en-Provence, France, and the study’s lead author, told The Guardian. “For that, we need to decrease the emissions of greenhouse gases very quickly, and start the decreasing now, and not by 2020, and to arrive at zero emissions by 2050 and not by the end of the century.” + Climate change: The 2015 Paris Agreement thresholds and Mediterranean basin ecosystems Via Inside Climate News Images via Good Free Photos  and Wikimedia

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Morocco switches on phase one of the world’s largest solar plant

February 5, 2016 by  
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The king of Morroco has switched on what will be the world’s largest solar power plant – in the Saharan desert near Ouarzazate. When it is completed in 2018, the Noor Concentrated Solar Power complex will be the size of the country’s capital city and generate 580MW, enough power to serve 1.1 million people. Read the rest of Morocco switches on phase one of the world’s largest solar plant

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