Heat waves have swept across the nation this summer as millions of Americans experience triple-digit temperatures. 19 states have reported wildfires, with 336 fires in California alone. The largest fire, which is in Alaska, is almost 2.3 million acres. (Delaware, for reference, is 1.6 million acres.)
The issue isn’t unique to the United States. Fires and record temperatures are being recorded worldwide. Iran hit 126 degrees Fahrenheit in late June, and there are reported fires in Portugal, Spain, and parts of France.
According to NASA, “Earth in 2021 was about 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit (or about 1.1 degrees Celsius) warmer than the late 19th-century average, the start of the industrial revolution.” It must be noted, however, that the temperature increase is more dramatic towards the Earth’s center and less dramatic at its poles. In other words, the areas of the world which are inhabited are more susceptible to significant temperature changes.
The heat waves bring a new sense of urgency to address climate change. Many believe that avoiding emissions with emissions-free technologies will not be sufficient to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. In order to reduce the risks and costs of climate change, new technologies must be developed to draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
AspiraDAC Sequesters CO2 with Solar Power
Based in Australia, AspiraDAC is developing a method of solar-powered direct air capture (DAC) to sequester CO2. Developed at the University of Sydney, the technology uses a “nano-porous absorbent called a metal organic framework, or MOF, whose huge internal surface area and chemical selectivity allows for excellent carbon dioxide uptake and release for sequestration.”
Once captured from the air, carbon can be stored permanently underground. AspiraDAC has not identified a definite location for geologic storage, but according to the Guardian, depleted oil and gas reservoirs in South Australia are potential options.
AspiraDAC recently received its first carbon offset purchase: a $700k contract from Stripe via Frontier, a financial commitment formed by corporations including Meta and Shopify. AspiraDAC plans to develop a DAC system of 180 units, each the size of a t-frame tent, to pull down 500 tons of CO2 by 2027 at a price of $1000 per ton.
The stretch goal for AspiraDAC is to make sequestered carbon much cheaper: less than $20/ton. Although the goal is aggressive, Australia’s high potential for solar energy might put it within reach. According to the Executive Director of AspiraDAC, Julian Turecek, with the customers such as Frontier, AspiraDAC may be able to “bring down the costs per tonne of carbon to a competitive level to take removal to a megatonne scale within the next decade, and gigatonne scale the decade following.”
While the market for carbon offsets is still in its infancy, companies like AspiraDAC are making important advances. Nan Ransohoff, who leads Frontier, said: “Getting durable carbon removal to gigaton-scale will likely require a diverse portfolio of approaches that have a path to low costs. AspiraDAC’s low temperature heat requirements, path to affordable material costs, and modular design will allow for a more distributed scale-up, and make this approach highly promising.”
Luke Brennan is a writer and software developer originally from Pittsburgh.