Elon Musk-Backed Carbon Capture Technology Really Could Save The World
Carbon capture is one of the most promising pieces of climate technology out there. If used correctly, it has the potential to not only halt climate change, but turn back time and repair the damage we have done. The only problem is most carbon capture systems are insanely expensive and practically impossible to scale to any useful size. But this is where the Cal-tech spin-off Captura comes in. Their ocean-based carbon capture technology is poised to not only be one of the cheapest on the market, but also has the potential to reach the gigatonne-per-year capacity level. No wonder it has attracted massive investment from the DOE and Elon Musk. But how does this technology work? And can it really stop climate change?
Captura’s technology removes carbon dioxide from the ocean. Which, at first glance, seems a little backward; after all, it is atmospheric carbon dioxide that is driving climate change. However, carbon dioxide is soluble, causing the oceans to absorb vast amounts of it. In fact, about 30% of our emissions are absorbed by the ocean each year. Once absorbed, the carbon dioxide turns into mostly bicarbonate with a little bit of carbonic acid.
So, why is this advantageous? Well, these forms of carbon dioxide are far more reactive than gaseous carbon dioxide, which is practically inert. This opens the door to a plethora of brilliant and unique chemical processes for us to utilise to try and remove it and store it away. But water is also around 800 times more dense than air, so the carbon dioxide concentrations in the ocean are actually 120 times higher than in the atmosphere by volume. This increased density can make any carbon capture technology even more efficient.
So, that’s why Captura turned to the oceans. But how does their technology actually work?
They use a process known as electrochemical pH swing, which is far more straightforward than it sounds. All it does is manipulate the ocean water to become more acidic.
To begin with, Captura pumps water out of the ocean and into their device. Once inside, they pass 1% of the sample through a bipolar membrane. This membrane will effectively split the water molecules…