An Australian tent-sized solar-powered prototype machine that can absorb CO2 from the air has landed a $700,000 contract to capture and store carbon.
The deal, part of a project backed by corporations including the owners of Google and Facebook, is believed to be the first time an Australian company has struck a deal to remove CO2 using direct air capture (DAC) technology.
AspiraDAC will deploy some 180 of the machines, developed and manufactured in Australia, to capture and store 500 tonnes of CO2 by 2027 at an agreed price of US$1,000 (AU$1,469) per tonne.
In April, several major corporations, including the owners of Facebook and Google, announced a new company called Frontier that would spend US$925 million (AU$1,359) on projects that extract CO2 from the air and then store it.
In the company’s first major purchase, technology company Stripe, one of Frontier’s partners, announced this week that it would spend $2.4 million ($3.5 million Australian) on six direct capture projects. air around the world, including AspiraDAC.
AspiraDAC CEO Julian Turecek said up to 180 modules would be needed to fulfill the contract and these would cover an area of less than half a hectare.
He said the company had not confirmed the site’s location or geological storage, but depleted oil and gas deposits at Moomba in South Australia were being considered.
“We really think this is a launch time for direct air capture in Australia,” Turecek said. “This is the beginning of what could be a major industry.”
He said the carbon mining deal with Frontier would likely be the first of several that AspiraDAC would deliver.
Southern Green Gas has developed the machines in association with the University of Sydney, and will build and deliver them to AspiraDAC.
Southern Green Gas co-founder and business development manager Brett Cooper believed the contract to deliver emission reductions using DAC was a first in Australia. Each module can capture two tons of CO2 per year.
Cooper said: “This is a quintessential Australian solution because not everyone has the area of land that also has the intensity of solar energy that we do.”
The amount of CO2 reduction under the new contract is small, but Cooper said the deal is an important step for the industry which he says has great growth potential in Australia.
At the core of the Australian machine is a sponge-like material developed at the University of Sydney that retains CO2 molecules as air passes through it.
Fans draw air into the containers holding the sponges, and then heat is used to extract pure CO2 that can be pumped out and stored underground. All power comes from solar panels that cover the units like an A-frame tent.
The Sydney team of scientists and student researchers won a $250,000 prize last year to support the development of material from tech billionaire Elon Musk’s $100 million (AU$147 million) X-Prize that is trying to set up research projects. large-scale carbon removal.
Professor Deanna D’Alessandro, who oversees the Sydney team, said: “Carbon reduction will be absolutely essential. This is directly addressing the problem and that’s really powerful.”
“Students are seeing that the materials they make have a real impact on carbon reduction.”
Turecek said: “Nature has designed the perfect air-capturing machine and that is a tree. But DAC is doing it mechanically and once we can do it at scale we will be able to control that CO2 removal and make it permanent.”
An International Energy Agency plan for the world’s economies to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 says that direct air capture technologies will need to deliver more than 85 million tons of CO2 capture by 2030. Currently, the agency says that the technology can deliver just 10,000 tons worldwide. .
In May, the US government announced a US$3.5bn program to build four major hubs for direct air capture projects.
The world’s largest direct air capture plant is in Iceland and the company behind the plant, Climeworks, announced this week that it was expanding capacity to 36,000 tonnes of CO2 a year.
Dr. Paul Feron, a scientist working on carbon capture technologies at CSIRO, said the agency was working on three different DAC technologies that it hoped to commercialize within a decade.
“We’ve gotten to the point in terms of CO2 levels in the atmosphere that we need to have an ‘all of the above’ approach,” he said.
“We need to be good at using as little energy as possible and we need to replace our fossil fuels with renewable energy as fast as we can. But that is most likely not enough and we need to manage the carbon that is already causing climate change. That is why there is a huge interest in DAC.
“We need to plant as many trees as we can, but it is a reflection of the seriousness of the problem that we now have to analyze. [DAC] also.”