Open-source solutions for direct carbon capture

Part of our series Securing Global Net Zero, featuring innovation, research and technology from the University sector which could help reach targets for net zero carbon by 2050.

The problem of uncontrolled addition of carbon to the atmosphere has become so acute, that three years ago it stimulated Associate Professor Matt Parker at New York University, a software developer and games designer, to join several colleagues in setting up the OpenAir Collective. The Collective describes itself not as an organisation, but a network of volunteers who work on projects or missions aimed at direct-air carbon removal. The goal is to remove more carbon than is emitted.

“With an oil spill, you don’t just turn off the tap and leave the oil sitting there, you have to clean it up,” Matt says. “That’s our take on climate change, carbon clean-up needs to be part of the solution.”

“There are problems of messaging here. The term ‘carbon capture’ is viewed as removing carbon from things like flue gases of power plants. It is often a way of saying: ‘We can keep burning what we are burning now – but we need to clean it up a little bit.’ That is not what OpenAir is about. We’re about direct-air carbon removal, both keeping CO2 out of the open air and cleaning up the mess we’ve made over the years. We are in support of all forms of carbon removal.”

The Collective has several different projects developing technology to suck carbon directly from open air, as opposed to capturing it from flues or exhausts. The idea would be either recycling the carbon in fuels or plastics in the short-term or, preferably, storing it permanently in geological formations. And all the software and hardware involved will be open-source.

But the Collective works on a much broader scale than that, and that’s where people like Matt, neither a scientist nor an engineer, fit in. “A bill we prepared for the New York State Legislature supporting low-embodied-carbon concrete has already been passed.”

Concrete is responsible for about 8% of carbon emissions and the Collective is hoping to boost the production of concrete using minimal or no fossil fuel, and which maybe can even absorb carbon from the atmosphere. A similar bill has been prepared for New Jersey and members of the Collective are also looking to Virginia and Wisconsin as well as Canada and Europe.

Find out more from our member, New York University:

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