Students and professors at the University of Wisconsin (UW) have come up with an innovative form of carbon capture technology that they’ve used to participate in the XPRIZE competition.
In 2021, the UW team was among the top winners in the $5 million XPRIZE for Carbon Removal Student Competition.
The contest welcomes any project that can help the climate by eliminating carbon dioxide from the planet. The UW team was awarded $250,000 to continue their project.
Elon Musk established a non-profit research organization set to fund early-stage carbon removal concepts, helping teams build real systems that can make an impact.
According to the United Nations, global emissions reached 59 gigatons of CO2 in 2019 alone.
Since the UW group received its initial award, it has been consistently building a demonstration unit where third parties would verify the technology.
The Musk Foundation will announce the next competition prizes – 15 awards worth $1,000,000 each – on Earth Day, April 22.
The team is putting all its energy into building a carbonization component and a direct air capture (DAC) unit.
DAC would trap carbon dioxide from the air, and the carbonization component would convert the trapped CO2 into limestone particles.
XPRIZE: A boon for scientific ideas
XPRIZE is indeed a boon for people with unique ideas of how to remove CO2 from the earth in a practical manner. It turns the ideas into an actual engineering system that can work in a feasible way, as is the case with the UW team
The team was formed by professor of biological systems engineering, Rob Anex, and assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, Bu Wang and some of their students, who together started working on their ideas.
Team member and recent CALS graduate student in biological systems engineering Seunghyeon JungPhD’21 was focused on building the lab-scale DAC unit. It relies on simple chemical reactions and specialized materials to trap CO2 from the air.
How does the UW carbon capture technology work?
Hydroxide solution is flown over the packing material, while at the same time, air is blown horizontally over the surface. The chemical reaction happens on the surface and traps carbon in carbonate ions.
The carbonate solution then enters the carbonization component and is combined with slag or ash, byproducts of the industrial furnace-like steel mills.
The end product is carbonated powder containing fine limestone and silica particles, which can be used as a substitute for cement in construction. A hydroxide byproduct of this process then goes back into the DAC unit to trap more CO2.
Essentially, carbon dioxide from the air is being converted into carbonate minerals which can be further upcycled into construction materials.
The team members include six graduate and two undergraduate students, all working on refining their system as they move forward in the XPRIZE contest.