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Carbon dioxide emissions released from human activity are responsible for the vast majority of global greenhouse gas emissions, which also comprise methane and nitrous oxide emissions. These gases are expelled during the combustion of fossil fuels from petrol cars, traditional gas-based home heating systems, and industrial power generation plants that burn coal, oil and natural gas.
To fight the looming threats of climate change, carbon storage is a hot topic for mitigation, whereby carbon dioxide emissions are taken out of the atmosphere. Carbon is transported from where it was produced, via ship or in a pipeline, and stored underground in geological layers through carbon sequestration. In theory, the storage could help avoid these gases wreaking further havoc on the global climate.
New Balloons Raise the Bar for Carbon Capture
Thanks to new patented technology by High Hopes Labs, fleets of balloons will be sent into the upper atmosphere to trap carbon dioxide for recycling.
The innovation overcomes a problem faced previously by other carbon capture methods, where removing CO2 from the atmosphere at the standard temperature of the atmosphere has required high amounts of energy, meaning that the technologies have not been cost-effective or scalable. Removing CO2 from the atmosphere directly has not been cost-effective for governments or companies, so has not typically been a viable, efficient solution.
High Hopes Labs have found a shortcut to avoid this problem, with a system that takes in carbon where it has already nearly solidified, in a higher part of the upper atmosphere, high above the Earth.
Capturing gas is easier when it is closer to freezing temperatures, and around 50 kilometers above our heads, the carbon can easily be captured with less effort. The simplicity of the method will mean it can be the first carbon capture technology that can be scaled properly, enough to make a noteworthy step in our global climate change mitigation efforts.
CEO Nadav Mansdorf told Reuters: "The beautiful thing is that capturing gas is very easy when it's close to freezing."
"Carbon is freezing in minus 80 degrees (Celsius) and the only place that we can find carbon in a temperature close to that, is 15 kilometers (9 miles above sea level) above our heads."
This balloon material is made of a special material that holds hydrogen inside, allowing the device to reach a very high altitude so it can access the carbon at colder temperatures, which is easier to capture
When the wind blows through the technology, the carbon is separated and stored in a freezer compartment. The solid carbon is then converted into carbon dioxide gas while the balloon progressively descends back down to earth, as the weight of the carbon helps drag it back down.
The gas taken back down to earth can later be collected for storage or recycled when it is sold on to industries. The balloons could reach carbon sequestration sites where the emissions may be buried underground for permanent storage, to be sequestered at high pressure.
Tests and Scalability
The method has been tested and validated by High Hopes Lab on a small scale, by releasing gas-filled balloons with a box attached underneath that acts as the carbon capture device. The frozen carbon is separated from the air and delivered back to earth where it can be recycled.
In the next two years, the start-up will make significantly larger balloons that can remove a ton of carbon a day, costing below $100 each. This is significantly less than existing carbon capture technologies on the ground.
Patent Offers Promising Future
In recent news, High Hopes Labs received a patent for its capture balloons. This invention was designed by the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of High Hopes Labs, Eran Oren, who is a physicist and an alumnus of the Israeli army’s Talpiot program.
Oren set out to optimize these balloons to capture one metric ton of carbon, for each balloon, every day, allowing this method to become scalable at a global level. As a result, the cost of the carbon capture process could become as low as $40-50 per ton of CO2, bringing to the world the first scalable and affordable carbon capture method. But for that level of scalability, more funding will be needed.
“For our first milestone, we’re aiming for $100 to $250 per ton… For the second milestone, we’re hoping to get to below $40 to $50… The physics is working and the scientific aspects are validated. There’s a question of engineering that depends on the level of resources we will have,” Eran Oren told the Carbon Herald.
The innovative balloons created by High Hopes Labs could raise the bar for carbon capture efforts of the future, as such methods, which can be scalable worldwide, will be vital for combatting climate change.