Scalable Carbon Capture

Climate change is a function of the concentration of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. When the sun’s energy hits Earth, a portion of that energy is absorbed into the ground. Greenhouse gases, like carbon and methane, block more heat from radiating into space than nitrogen, which is the primary gas in earth’s atmosphere.[1] In function, this works much like a bedding blanket: the thicker the blanket, the more heat that blanket retains. The more heat it retains, the warmer you become – and this is happening on a planetary scale.[2]

This problem adversely affects weather and long-term polar ice melt, but also exacerbates droughts, wildfires, smog and air pollution – saying nothing of mass human migration. Alongside resource scarcity, climate change ranks among the most serious problems of our time, with potentially catastrophic consequences for our civilization should it remain unaddressed.[3]

Worse, solutions to this problem that involve scaling back fossil fuels have proven politically precarious,[4] as the oil and gas industry is a major driver of the global economy and many entrenched power players owe their wealth to its lucrative returns. Even if this wasn’t the case, the greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing, agriculture and global commerce would still persist even if our fuel supply chain was carbon neutral.[5]

Getting ahead of the impacts of climate change are laudable efforts. But they, in all truth, needed to begin decades ago when the first warnings were sounded (and unfortunately ignored).[6] Humanity has already passed an initial carbon tipping point of 400 parts-per-million[7] and global fossil fuel usage and consumption is accelerating[8] – as is our population – meaning that even though we recognize the problem of climate change, it’s getting continually worse even as we attempt to step up efforts to slow it down.

Switching to a clean, carbon-neutral energy schema like Scarcity Zero is an essential part of any strategy to avoid the calamitous results of climate change. But even if it was implemented as proposed it wouldn’t by itself clean the atmosphere of the greenhouse gasses already present. It can, however, power unique systems designed to accomplish this very task.

An atmospheric scrubber is a machine that strips greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, either by a chemical or mechanical method.[9] A primary example is Direct Air Capture, which blows air through towers containing a solution that reacts with greenhouse gases, removing them from the air to form a substance that can be further processed into materials including usable fuel.[10]

A Vancouver, Canada-based company named “Carbon Engineering” has patented several Direct Air Capture methods to isolate carbon from air through modular fan assemblies that work in unison with each other.[11] Their current pricing models assess a rate of $100 per-ton of CO2 captured under combined-cycle natural gas, which costs significantly more at present than Scarcity Zero’s target of 2 cents per kilowatt-hour.

  • Concept of Direct Air Capture:

    Concept of Direct Air Capture

  • Direct Air Capture Overview:

    Direct air capture overview

  • Direct Air Capture Technical Details:

    Direct air capture technical details

As with other Direct Air Capture technologies, water and fuel are produced as deliverables alongside renewable electricity through cogenerative functions.

Another noteworthy component of this system is use of a chemical cycle that both uses non-toxic materials and is functionally closed-loop,[12] meaning that the chemicals (and thermal energy) used for Direct Air Capture is continually re-used and does not require frequent refueling over time. This makes the method both environmentally friendly and indefinitely scalable.

Several other ventures have come to market with similar technologies. Iceland’s Climeworks’ models, for example, are both modular and scalable with their largest units being capable of capturing nearly 5,000 kilograms of carbon per-day.[13] In addition to standard carbon capture, they also are able to condense captured carbon into usable fuels[14] or solid carbon for use in materials.[15]

  • Climeworks technology overview:

    Climeworks technology overview

  • Single Carbon Capture Device:

    Single carbon capture device

  • Multiple Carbon Capture Array:

    Multiple carbon capture array

Other companies, including Silicon Kingdom Holdings in the United Kingdom and Alabama-based Global Thermostat have created products and obtained patents within similar models that perform similar functions in abstract.[16]
  • DAC for carbon storage:

    Direct air capture for carbon storage

  • DAC for carbon-neutral oil drilling:

    Direct air capture for carbon-neutral oil drilling

  • DAC for aircraft fuel and airline carbon mitigation:

    Direct air capture for aircraft fuel and airline carbon mitigation

The costs of these systems stand to fall significantly over time through continued investment and research, and their operational costs stand to fall even further if implemented within a modular energy framework. If integrated directly within CHP plants, captured carbon could be stored on site and used alongside hydrogen sourced from seawater on-site. This would provide ample source material to make unique fuels with low-carbon emissions.[17]

In an ideal scenario, prefabricated facilities could be delivered, installed, connected and initiated in a matter of weeks for near-instant energy and resource production, effectively turn-key. With an effectively unlimited source of clean energy, problems of nearly any scale – even planetary – become solvable. And the more modular and adaptable these sources of energy become, the quicker they can arrive to deliver solutions that mitigate the impact of energy, climate or resource-driven social problems.