The challenge

Small amounts of CO2, methane and other fossil fuel emissions have an outsized impact on global warming. Although they exist at low concentrations in the atmosphere – around just 0.04% in the case of CO2 and 0.00017% for methane – they are nevertheless exceptionally good at trapping heat. Yet the low concentrations and the chemical nature of these compounds makes them difficult to filter out of the atmosphere. To address this challenge, researchers at the NZI are developing engineered approaches to carbon removal via Direct Air Capture (DAC) through the design of nanomaterials that selectively trap greenhouse gas molecules, such as CO2.

Why this research is valuable

Fossil fuel emissions are a major contributor to climate change, which is causing weather extremes and habitat loss and poses a threat to human health, food and water supplies and economic growth. International thought leaders including the IPCC, the International Energy Agency (IEA), the Swiss Re Institute and the Oxford Offsetting Principles, recognise Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) as a critical strategy for reducing harmful CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

Disruptive Negative Emissions Technologies such as Direct Air Capture technologies can provide a way to achieve this strategy and — alongside new low- or zero- emissions technologies — provide an opportunity to significantly mitigate the risk of catastrophic climate change. Moreover, although CO2 is detrimental as a greenhouse gas, it is a valuable commodity for agriculture and horticulture (e.g. growth of organic fruits and vegetables), and a valuable feedstock for renewable fuels. CO2 capture can potentially provide a sustainable source of industrially useful CO2. We estimate that successful deployment of DAC technologies being developed at the NZI will reduce the cost of CO2 to less than US$100/tonne, facilitating the accelerated uptake of the technology.

Research areas

  • Removal of CO2from ambient air using renewable energy and specially designed nanomaterials called Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOFs) which can be produced economically and at scale
  • Development of advanced nanomaterials (including MOFs) with highly sought-after physicochemical properties including (i) ultrahigh selectivity for CO2combined with air and water stability; (ii) outstanding conversion efficiency for CO2 to commodity chemicals
  • Optimisation of the thermodynamic and dynamic performance of advanced materials (including MOFs) while also improving lifespan, safety and scalable manufacture for large-scale Direct Air Capture.

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