BRISBANE, United States — Removing carbon dioxide from the air is imperative if humanity is to limit global warming, experts say, and a California startup says it can do it, using limestone as a carbon-sucking sponge.
San Francisco-based Heirloom Carbon has become a leading name in the burgeoning capture technology sector, even striking a deal with Microsoft to help the Windows maker achieve its zero-carbon ambitions.
Governments are adopting similar innovations to meet their climate goals, while CO2 emissions remain too high to mitigate the greenhouse effect causing the ravages of climate change.
Capturing CO2 directly out of the atmosphere is the “time machine” that will return us to cleaner air, according to Shashank Samala, co-founder and CEO of Heirloom.
“If you really want to reverse climate change and get back to where things were, removing carbon is the closest thing to eliminating existing air emissions,” he said.
Carbon capture will be a central topic of discussions at the COP28 climate negotiations, which will take place in Dubai from November 30 to December 12.
Many see it as a necessity to move closer to a zero-emissions world while others fear it will be hailed as an easy way to avoid making the sacrifices needed to slow climate change.
The United Nations Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which leads the COP meetings, considers the deployment of carbon capture and storage systems inevitable if we are to limit global warming to 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels.
“WRING THE SPONGE”
Heirloom has set a goal of ridding the atmosphere of a billion tonnes of CO2 per year by 2035 – without incentivizing companies to continue burning fossil fuels.
This will help reduce the 10 to 20 billion tons of carbon that the U.S. National Academy of Sciences says must be eliminated each year by the end of the century.
“Heirloom uses limestone which is a natural mineral and we give it superpowers and we turn it into a sponge that can suck up CO2 from the atmosphere,” said co-founder and head of research Noah McQueen.
“We then wring out this sponge and permanently store this CO2 underground,” he added.
Co-founder Mr. Samala remembers the cyclones, droughts and crushing heatwaves from his childhood in India all too well.
“I remember my mother putting a wet towel on a fan and using it as an air conditioner,” he said.
“Climate change has unfair consequences on vulnerable people. »
Mr Samala briefly worked at financial technology company Square after studying engineering in the United States, then founded an electronics company.
“But the call for climate has always been there,” he said, with year after year of California wildfires and disappearing coral reefs pushing him to change careers.
Looking through the 2018 IPCC report, Mr Samala focused on carbon capture, an area then in dire need of innovation and investment.
Direct air capture (DAC) techniques, such as those developed by Heirloom and Swiss pioneer Climeworks, differ from systems where carbon is captured at source (CCS), such as factory smokestacks.
Heirloom opted for limestone because it is available in large quantities and says there is no shortage of storage space.
“In the United States alone, there are enough to store all the emissions we have emitted since the industrial revolution,” Mr. McQueen said.
Mr. Will Knapp, co-founder of the startup CCS Cocoon, believes that it is much easier to capture CO2 directly from the places where it is emitted, such as factories or steel mills, than from the general atmosphere.
Metal fabrication furnaces can release CO2 concentrations of 10 to 30 percent, while the concentration of CO2 in the air we breathe is only 0.4 percent, according to Mr. Knapp.
Capturing it from the general atmosphere would be “like finding a needle in a haystack,” he said.
“There is no silver bullet to solve climate change, (but) we don’t need miracles, we just need bullets,” he added.
Mr. Samala, of Heirloom, imposes strict commitments on his company, such as not reselling CO2 to companies that would ultimately release it into the atmosphere.
He also condemns “greenwashing,” where some industries, particularly the oil and gas lobby, use vague promises of carbon removal “as a way to distract us.”
“For us to go against the status quo is incredibly difficult, but it’s what we have to do,” Mr. Samala said. AFP