GreenTech: Cleaning Up Carbon

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Energy made an announcement that marks a milestone for our species… an announcement that has turned the world on its head overnight. For the first time, scientists have been able to achieve a “net energy gain” through a breakthrough in nuclear fusion technology. Bottom line: we just made a chess move, and it was a big one.

Essentially, we now have the capability to replicate and then harness the raw power of very specific conditions that currently only exist in the stars and the sun. That sentence alone is strange to write, it simply sounds so implausible that we’re still processing that it’s real. What we’ll attempt to do is tie this news in with current green technologies that will be important to how we navigate what comes next. So… we now have this capability, what does it mean?

It means that, it’s only a matter of time before we achieve a society powered by abundant zero carbon fusion energy. It means goodbye fossil fuels. It means, at this point, any activity undertaken toward fossil fuels is a short-term effort. We, The United States of America, now harness the greatness of the most powerful bodies in our universe. Fusion power has no nuclear waste… we can party like it’s 1999 without worrying about the hangover.

Time To Tackle Carbon

Okay, that’s a cute sentiment, but it’s not entirely accurate. Yes, we can celebrate… but now comes the messy part. We have to clean up before we can transition, and truly enjoy the fruits of our nuclear fusion efforts. If we don’t get to work, immediately, pulling the carbon out of the atmosphere that is already there, nobody will be partying. This means that no longer can we stand and wring our hands, frustrated that any efforts may be futile.

What we’re talking about has some official names… Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) is one, as well as negative emissions or carbon drawdown. Whatever term is used, it’s all talking about removing carbon dioxide permanently from the atmosphere and storing it underground or under the ocean floor. Or, using it to make new products. If we get carbon removal going seriously on a global scale, it could help prevent ocean acidification and slow global warming.

We’ve seen some fantastic innovators working in the carbon removal space, so we’d like to highlight a few. The types of contributions they are making, in conjunction with the fast evolution of our energy advances, are exactly what we need to reimagine what tomorrow will look like. We don’t think tomorrow is as dystopian as it has been painted to be, we think that sometimes it’s just tough to see how the dots connect.

So… what technologies and business innovations are going to help us in this imagined brighter future? For one, special fabrics… and one already exists. It’s a special textile filter that grabs CO2 from gas and air. Researchers at North Carolina State University have presented findings from an initial laboratory testing which could help us stop carbon emissions at their source (say, at a power plant) using this special filter. This special filter combines cotton fabric and an enzyme called carbonic anhydrase to stop CO2.

The technology could reduce carbon dioxide emissions from biomass, natural gas, and coal power plants. All that needs to be figured out is how to scale and some of the grittier details. This is good because, currently, power plants are a primary source of carbon dioxide emissions. And while, yes, eventually, in an ideal world, there would be no more of these, we must be realistic… that change doesn’t happen overnight.

Less Exotic Than It Sounds

Businesses are evolving to meet a world where carbon removal is a cornerstone of our society. Some are even centering their entire model around this reality. Some are doing programs to help customers get involved… some are going a little bigger. Stripe, for instance, is one of the businesses getting involved in carbon removal by introducing Stripe Climate, an initiative to raise funds for emerging carbon removal technologies.

Stripe Climate allows for the donation of a percentage of revenues to help grow emerging carbon removal technologies and is an opt-in option. Opting in allows some funds to be dedicated to carbon removal projects, with 100% of the contribution directed to carbon removal. The program focuses contributions on projects removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by purchasing permanent removal of CO2 at a certain price per ton.

Some companies are getting a little more creative, like start-up company Heirloom, which uses limestone to capture CO2. This Microsoft-backed start-up aims to help remove the 10% to 20% of CO2 from the atmosphere that scientists say we’ll need to reach our climate goals. According to scientists, if we can capture and either store or reuse this amount of CO2, we can meet our goals.

But some companies are going even further… as far as they can go with it, in fact. One example is Dimensional Energy, which plans to harvest CO2 to create jet fuel. Yes, you read that right… they’re going to make jet fuel from CO2, enough that they’ve partnered with United Airlines (UAL). They’ll be making 300 million gallons of fuel harvested from carbon dioxide for United Airlines.

The plan is to use a chemical process to pull gigatons of carbon from the atmosphere and create synthetic fuel for airlines. But that’s just the start… all kinds of things can be made, not just jet fuel. The company has gotten the attention of some powerful people, even receiving money from the U.S. Government under the Advanced Research Projects Agency.

So, we have a new superpower, and a whole new world has opened because of it. We’re shifting the energy conversation, and that means everything that energy touches will experience shifts as well. CO2 removal is an integral part of moving forward, and a necessary step. The business that sees the value here, and goes for it, will find themselves in a winning position moving forward… and that’s where we want to put you. Come back next week, we’ll have more from the green technology space!