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Cambridge technology that locks CO2 into rock 'will halt climate change'




Cambridge Carbon Capture's patented technology locks CO2 into rock like this
Cambridge Carbon Capture's patented technology locks CO2 into rock like this

A significant amount of ongoing damage to the environment could be eliminated by the adoption of new technology which converts carbon to a material which is "so safe you can eat it".

"By offering a solution where all types and sizes of industry can eradicate their CO2 emissions, whilst making a profit, Cambridge Carbon Capture aims to enable all industry to become zero carbon, putting a halt on climate change permanently," the firm says.

If the conversion technology scales up in the way start-up Cambridge Carbon Capture anticipates, CO2 will be removed from the atmosphere and converted into a “usable, versatile and marketable material with many potential commercial uses”.

These commercial uses, CEO Michael Evans tells the Cambridge Independent, mean “it can be used as a food supplement”. Other applications for the by-product include silicon for tyres with lower rolling resistance – "you can increase fuel economy by up to 15 per cent” – and ‘clean steel’ which “could be a real saviour for the British steel industry”.

The Cambridge team of scientists is commercialising the process, having now proven at lab-scale that its patented CO2LOC technology can efficiently capture CO2 and convert it into a valuable by-product. The technology works via a two-stage mineralisation process, which involves the reaction of magnesium hydroxide (MgOH2) with CO2 to produce magnesium carbonate (MgCO3). The magnesium carbonate is filtered out to form a rock-like substance, permanently storing the sequestered carbon in a solid form. Check the science here.

The by-product is strong and lightweight, extremely fire- and water-resistant, and has many different potential applications across a range of industries. Its fire-resistant property means that even a thin wall of the material can provide superior fire protection for buildings, and it can also be used in construction as an eco-friendly alternative to concrete fillers, blocks, tiles and plasterboard.

Before it is dried, the by-product has a ‘slurry-like’ consistency, and this slurry has been proven to effectively and quickly extinguish fire. The by-product is stable and non-toxic and can be converted into a cream form and Cambridge Carbon Capture is currently talking to potential partners in the paints, cleaning and cosmetics industries to explore different possible applications.

“Each year, the world produces 40 billion tonnes of CO2,” says Mr Evans. “The current goal is for this to be reduced to zero by 2050 – but, we are fast running out of time, as the detrimental effects of climate change become more and more apparent every year. The thing is, the world cannot just halt all operations – until we can find an effective eco-friendly alternative, we still need fossil fuels, particularly in the heavy industries.

“Cambridge Carbon Capture offers a unique solution because it allows industry to continue to operate, but any carbon emitted can be captured and converted into a useful by-product which can be used either in their own operations or sold on for a profit. For example, a cement works could capture the CO2 emitted from the cement plant, and, using our process, can transform the captured CO2 into a filler in their ready mix concrete – it really is that versatile. The technology takes the concept of a circular economy to a whole new level, and the possibilities are endless.

“Now we’ve proven the technology in the laboratory, we now aim to prove it on an industrial scale, and for that, we need large amounts of investment. One of the issues we have is that the technology is very capital-intensive, so it’s been a struggle."

Michael Evans, CEO of Cambridge Carbon Capture, a start-up incorporated in 2011 and based at Allia Future Business Centre
Michael Evans, CEO of Cambridge Carbon Capture, a start-up incorporated in 2011 and based at Allia Future Business Centre

“Cambridge Carbon Capture offers a unique solution because it allows industry to continue to operate, but any carbon emitted can be captured and converted into a useful by-product which can be used either in their own operations or sold on for a profit. For example, a cement works could capture the CO2 emitted from the cement plant, and, using our process, can transform the captured CO2 into a filler in their ready mix concrete – it really is that versatile. The technology takes the concept of a circular economy to a whole new level, and the possibilities are endless.

“Now we’ve proven the technology in the laboratory, we now aim to prove it on an industrial scale, and for that, we need large amounts of investment. We’re currently in discussions with a range of organisations to establish partnerships for use of the technology, and are seeking investment to help us demonstrate our technology in real world applications. We are also developing a larger demonstrator, housed in a shipping container, which will enable us to trial our technology at all kinds of industrial sites, such as cement works, steel mills and power stations."

"There are also opportunities in construction, including mining, food, roads, construction... for every tonne of CO2 we make 200 euros – companies will be able to make more money from our technology than their energy costs.”

Cambridge Carbon Capture is currently “working with a large utility company to demonstrate the technology” – probably at a power station.

The logic is impeccable: make a solid material out of CO2, then repurpose it so it has functionality. The practice? Let's put it this way: it's time to do right by Greta Thunberg. Expect crowdfunding details to follow as Cambridge Carbon Capture.

"We have to project to cover 70 per cent of the costs and still need to find 30 per cent of costs to develop our technology so we're looking to the public to get behind these kinds of technologies," says Mr Evans.



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