Fall 2021 was the NET Project at UT Austin’s first real semester in person! A huge thank you is in order to every one of our presenters, the time they took to share their knowledge with us and the work they do to advance carbon removal. Another thank you to our hardworking leadership team and the biggest thank you to every student that came out to our meetings this semester! Read on for a review of what we’ve been learning and doing over the past few months.
We started out the semester with a presentation from a longtime supporter of our organization, Dr. Daniel Sanchez, an assistant specialist at UC Berkeley and director of Carbon Removal Laboratory. He introduced us to many carbon removal concepts including the difference between biological and engineered carbon removal solutions as well as important factors used to assess these solutions such as technological readiness, co-benefits, cost, durability, and public policy among others.
Over the next three weeks of the semester, the NET Project officers presented on 14 different topics to our new and old members related to carbon removal in what we called “Speed NETs”. Soon after we had the opportunity to volunteer at Austin’s beautiful Pease Park.
At our fifth general meeting, we heard from Dahl Winters, the CEO/CTO of DeepScience Ltd and leader of the Cyan mission within the OpenAir Collective. We mainly discussed calcium carbonate and biochar solutions. At the next meeting, we got hands-on experience and made our own units based on the Cyan DAC model with reused plastic containers like old hummus containers and water bottles. We split into three groups and brainstormed the effect of surface area, how to maximize humidity in the unit, how to make the unit carbon neutral or negative, and more. Cyan, the unit that we modeled our projects after, performed better than all three of our prototypes but the implications of this technology if we had used all renewable energy and local products, especially considering how quickly and easily we built these, was definitely exciting!
The eighth general meeting featured a visit from our very own Vishrudh Sriramprasad, founder of the NET Project. He stepped in to tell us about the research he’s been involved in under his supervisor Klaus Lackner while getting his masters in sustainable engineering at ASU. Vish has been looking at the intersection of the social sciences and technology and is thinking about how to scale DAC in a community-centered way. We learned a lot about modular, scalable, and passive DAC design.
We finished out the semester with an amazing presentation from Max Scholten, head of commercialization at Heirloom. Heirloom’s goals include creating a design with a permanent storage solution that is scalable, uses little land, and is low cost along with their big plan of removing 1 billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere by 2035. Similar to Vishrudh’s research, we learned how they are focusing on turning climate change into a manufacturing problem by making something modular and repeatable.
A few honorable highlights from this semester include talking to Louis Uzor from Climeworks, the company that established the largest direct-air-capture plant! We also visited the Texas Farmers’ Market at Mueller to shop locally and got some sun at Auditorium Shores. Finally, we made our own shirts by screen-printing on old t-shirts to stay true to our sustainability efforts. Our policy and direct air capture projects have continued working hard toward their goals.
An update on what the DAC team accomplished this semester from Sebastian, the project lead:
The DAC project started this semester with no base design for our system and ended up with a full prototype schematic. We first found our method of CO2 adsorption, zeolite 13X, and based our ideas off of NASA’s 4-bed CO2 capture system in the ISS. Following this we decided to use convective heating and cooling via a variable temperature heat gun. Finally, after meeting with Dr. Hall and taking inspiration from Dahl Winters’ new carbon capture design, the unit was flipped 90 degrees and is now going to be developed as a partially-fluidized bed with airflow perpendicular to the chemical beds. Throughout the semester we met with advisors in the OpenAir Collective (in anticipation of the DACCathon) and at UT. Ultimately, some of the members presented our schematic to DAC experts at the University of Waterloo Hackathon and won $500 for the machine. We currently have many of the parts ready to build our device and will be running tests and building our DAC unit this coming semester!
An update on what the policy team accomplished this semester from Vilasini and Grant:
The policy project started the year by familiarizing ourselves with the entire UT combined heat and power system. After our first meeting with Ryan Thompson (Assistant Director of the University’s Utilities and Energy department), the boilers or chillers arose as potential projects for CCS technology to be implemented on campus. We learned how both systems functioned and also started figuring out which CCS technologies paired with these systems. During the middle of the semester we began searching for companies to provide the different CCS technologies for the boilers/chillers. We compiled the research on various companies found by the entire team. After hitting a roadblock when it came to accessing information and communicating with bigger companies, we consulted Professor Rochelle, a chemical engineering professor at UT who dedicated more than 15 years to research on amine scrubbing CCS technology. During our first meeting with Professor Rochelle, we learned details on his amine scrubbing technology and the implications of adapting it on campus. Space and cost were big factors. Shortly after, the policy team, a few officers, and Professor Rochelle went on a UT power plant tour led by Ryan Thompson. On the tour, we were able to see the energy generation process for the entire power plant. At the same time, we began informally discussing with Professor Rochelle what would be necessary to incorporate a pilot of his CCS technology on the campus power plant. Next semester, we hope to continue our policy project by creating a simplified TEA (cost benefit analysis) of Professor Rochelle’s technology to be implemented on campus.
The NET Project has grown significantly in the last six months and we are beyond excited to see UT Austin students get excited about carbon removal. We’ve all learned a tremendous amount this semester from our brilliant presenters and from one another. Happy New Year and cheers to continuing to educate ourselves so we can use the tools we cultivate now to create impact on the world.