The Lego-like way to get carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Washington Post: For decades, scientists have tried to discover ways to reverse climate change by pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it underground. They have tried trees, giant machines that suck carbon dioxide from the sky, and complex ocean methods that involve growing and burying vast amounts of kelp. Companies, researchers, and the U.S. government have spent billions of dollars researching and developing these methods, yet they remain too expensive to make a significant dent in carbon emissions. Now, a startup says it has discovered a deceptively simple way to take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it for thousands of years. It involves making bricks from mashed plant pieces. It could be a game-changer for the growing industry that pulls carbon out of the air.

Graphyte, a new company incubated by Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures investment group, announced Monday that it has devised a way to turn bits of wood chips and rice husks into low-cost dried bits of plant material. Those clumps of carbon-laden plant material — which look a bit like shoebox-sized Lego bricks — can then be buried deep underground for hundreds of years. The company claims this approach could store a ton of carbon dioxide for about $100 per ton, a figure long considered a milestone for removing carbon dioxide from the air affordably. (…) The graphite method harnesses the power of plants and trees in the process of photosynthesis and pulling carbon dioxide from the air. While trees and plants are excellent at sequestering carbon, they don’t store that carbon for very long — when a plant burns or decomposes, the carbon stored in it spills back into the air and soil.

Graphyte plans to avoid this decomposition by taking plant waste from wood harvesters and farmers and drying it thoroughly, removing all the microbes that could cause it to decompose and release greenhouse gases. Then, in a process they call “carbon molding,” the waste will be compressed and rolled into Lego-like molds, for easier storage about 10 feet underground. The company says that with the right monitoring systems in place, the blocks could remain there for a thousand years. (…) Graphyte plans to build its first project in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and the company hopes to sequester its first carbon for a customer in 2024. It remains to be seen whether Graphyte will be able to scale its operations to remove millions of tons of carbon dioxide Carbon from the atmosphere. The company will need to secure several sources of plant waste and build several small processing centers across the country to succeed. “The simplicity of the graphite approach is very exciting,” says Daniel Sanchez, who directs the Carbon Removal Laboratory at UC Berkeley and serves as a scientific advisor to Graphite. “You don’t need expensive equipment or processes. It locks a lot of the carbon into the wood—almost all of it.”

“Academic people might have thought about this before and said, ‘This is too simple.’” “No one would ever do that,” Sanchez said with a laugh.

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