Sydney Sustainable Carbon
Carbon dioxide is essential to life on the face of our planet. Plants and algae, for example, require carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, converting these molecules into oxygen and carbohydrates for growth.
The natural carbon cycle has been in balance for hundreds of millions of years. However since the industrial era, the carbon dioxide concentration in our atmosphere has risen dramatically, enhancing the greenhouse effect that has led to additional warming of our atmosphere. It is this change in our climate as a result of excess carbon dioxide (as the major contributor amongst the greenhouse gases) that is now threatening the delicate balance required by ecosystems on our planet.
The 2015 Paris Agreement sought to unite countries in the fight against climate change by devising strategies to keep the global temperature rise to a maximum of 1.5 °C. While a significant focus is on emissions reductions, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says this will not be enough to avoid dangerous levels of global warming: the world must actively remove historical carbon dioxide (CO₂) already in the atmosphere through processes often described as Negative Emissions Technologies (NETs).
CO₂ removal can be achieved in two ways. The first is by enhancing carbon storage in natural ecosystems, such as planting forests or storing carbon in soil. The second option is by using technologies such as Direct Air Capture (DAC) that separate CO₂ from ambient air, then either turn it into products or store it. DAC is acknowledged to be a crucial technology for carbon removals by international thought-leaders including the IPCC, the International Energy Agency (IEA), the Swiss Re Institute and is also recognised within the Oxford Offsetting Principles. See our recent article for The Conversation on DAC technology.
Some useful resources on Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) technologies including DAC technology are suggested here.
In partnership with Australian renewables start-up Southern Green Gas (SGG), Sydney Sustainable Carbon has a bold vision: to sustainably source carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The captured gas can either be compressed and stored (via geosequestration, leading to NET), or can be utilised (via Carbontech). Our DAC technology is based on Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOFs) for highly selective carbon dioxide removal from air. We are developing high volume continuous flow synthesis of these materials coupled with innovative 3D printing methods to produce ultra-high surface area DAC capture modules. SGG's modular system is fully powered by renewable solar energy and can sustainably scale to reach gigatonne carbon dioxide removal.
Our project is also supported by the Musk Foundation's XPRIZE student prize (2021-24). See the press release here.
Sustainable CO2 production for food, agriculture & carbon neutral fuels
CO2 is a valuable commodity for many Australian industries. As these industries currently use CO2 derived from non-renewable fossil resources, they face an immediate challenge in transitioning to sustainable sources of CO2. e.g.,
· Protected Cropping - CO2 is used to regulate fruit, vegetable and flower growing
· Algae production - CO2 is a raw material to promote microalgae growth which is the source of nutrients for the food industry and biofuels for transportation.
· Renewable methane - CO2 can be combined with green hydrogen (produced from water captured from the air) to generate sustainable methane that can be delivered to domestic and international consumers via Australia’s extensive existing infrastructure.
These examples represent some of Australia’s fastest growing food-producing sectors with the potential to mitigate environmental issues caused by the expansion of land-based food production, as well as increasing food security and fighting global hunger. They are also generating significant numbers of skilled jobs (e.g., labour requirements for protective cropping are expanding >5% p.a.). With SGG, our vision is to aid the transition of agricultural and horticultural systems to sustainable sources of CO2.
Zoom-style (Sept. 2021)
Post-lockdown (Nov. 2021)
Student members of the Sydney Sustainable Carbon team
CO-BENEFITS, SOCIAL LICENCE TO OPERATE & ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
In partnership with Southern Green Gas (SGG), Swiss Re and Corporate Carbon Advisory, we are committed to helping the community, governments and other stakeholders understand the potential impacts and implications of DAC technology, and to co-design solutions to these concerns.
There are many co-benefits to DAC technology including:
· A new manufacturing sector for regional Australia - e.g., the Parkes Special Activation Precinct is an ideal location to co-locate projects given the direct rail link to Broken Hill.
· Jobs creation - can create new jobs including skilled roles in the sustainable energy and environment sectors.
· A new export industry for Australia - CO2 removal provides a market driver and provides a pathway to de-risk carbon removal projects by providing insurance and investment.
We are strongly engaged in developing interdisciplinary collaborations across the University of Sydney campus to help build social license to operate for DAC technology. Our current collaborators include:
· The Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health - in a project to help address climate anxiety amongst our youth.
There have also been concerns stated for DAC technology. We briefly address these here and encourage you to reach out to us for discussion at any time.
DAC is not effective compared with nature-based solutions. Afforestation/reforestation are part of the portfolio of solutions to address climate change; however, capturing Australia’s CO2 emissions for just 2 years (~1000 million tonnes in 2019-2020) using reforesting would require the entire land area of NSW. DAC uses over 99.7% less space and can be hosted on non-arable land.
CO2 removal as an enabler for the fossil fuel industry to continue operating “business as usual.” With DAC technology, the one type of approach can deliver on both atmospheric carbon removal and the replacement of fossil carbon with recycled carbon for food and fuel production. By working together, these two industrial pathways deliver huge scale up, reducing the costs of DAC and eventually leading to a reduction of excess CO2 in the atmosphere.
Money spent on DAC will remove the focus on reducing fossil coal and gas production. Cost effective DAC will redeploy the oil and gas industry’s massive resources and skills towards both Replacing and Removing fossil carbon: Replacement will occur because renewable gas can be a profitable use of the industry’s existing infrastructure which otherwise risks being stranded. Removal will occur because the industry’s existing drilling and geological know how will have a new role.