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Fizz tech to capture carbon from the sea

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A new way to capture carbon dioxide from seawater could help tackle climate change.

Like capturing the CO2 bubbles in a fizzy drink, the technology uses natural processes and renewable energy to remove carbon, which in turn lets the seawater take more CO2 out of the atmosphere.

SeaCURE – led by the University of Exeter, with Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Brunel University London and industrial partner tpgroup – has won a £250,000 grant for an initial study.

The funding comes from the Net Zero Innovation Portfolio, run by the UK government's Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.

"We will exploit our existing understanding of conventional amine-based absorption carbon capture processes to concentrate the low-concentration gas stream from the 'CO2 removal' unit,” said Brunel chemical engineering's Dr Salman Masoudi Soltani.

"The lower inlet gas temperature (and its variation throughout the year) is expected to impact the capture efficiency and the energy demand of the process – an aspect investigated in this project."

The challenge with capturing carbon from the atmosphere is that CO2 makes up only around half of one per cent of the air, explained Exeter’s Dr Paul Halloran: “So you need to push vast quantities of air through capture facilities to extract a meaningful amount of carbon," he said.

"Our approach sidesteps this challenge by allowing the ocean’s vast surface area to do the job for us, tipping the natural process of CO2 exchange between the atmosphere and ocean in our favour."

SeaCURE technology will temporarily make seawater more acidic, which helps get the CO2 to ‘bubble out’, then delivers a concentrated CO2 stream for utilisation and storage. The CO2-depleted water is released back to the sea, where it takes up more CO2 from the air. The team will first design a pilot  plant to remove at least 100 tonnes of CO2 a year.

"This is about combining and scaling up proven technology and solving problems," Dr Halloran said. 

"By optimising each stage of this process, we hope to develop a model that will make this commercially viable on a large scale."

The only input SeaCURE, needs apart from seawater, is electricity – and the team will use wind to power their process.

Dr Tom Bell, of Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML), said: "Combining our understanding of the ocean with a scalable engineering approach fueled by renewable energy, SeaCURE has incredible potential to support the UK’s net zero carbon ambitions.

"PML’s research excellence and capability enables us to inform the design of the pilot plant, and we are excited to be able to apply our expertise to address the urgent issue of excess CO2 in the atmosphere."

James Thomas, of tpgroup, said: "SeaCURE critically brings together a partnership of academic expertise with tpgroup’s pedigree in delivering carbon capture systems for maritime environments.

"We hope to make a difference by ensuring that we develop both a technical solution to this global challenge, and one that delivers long-term reliability and commercial viability."

Photo by Joshua Woroniecki on Unsplash