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Singapore to Expand Ocean CO2 Removal Project as Scientists Call for More Research

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Tuesday, September 5, 2023

By David StanwaySINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore is planning to expand a pilot project that boosts the ocean's capacity to absorb carbon dioxide...

By David StanwaySINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore is planning to expand a pilot project that boosts the ocean's capacity to absorb carbon dioxide...

By David StanwaySINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore is planning to expand a pilot project that boosts the ocean's capacity to absorb carbon dioxide...
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World’s largest optical telescope – the ELT – going up in Chile

The world's largest optical telescope will be the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), currently under construction in the Chilean desert. The post World’s largest optical telescope – the ELT – going up in Chile first appeared on EarthSky.

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) is adding the world’s largest optical telescope to its collection of observatories in Chile. Construction on the Extremely Large Telescope, or ELT, as it’s called, began in August 2023 and should be completed in 2028. Image via ESO/ Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 4.0). Derryck Telford Reid, a professor of physics at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, wrote this article. It was published originally at The Conversation with the title “How we’re building the world’s biggest optical telescope to crack some of the greatest puzzles in science.” The world’s largest optical telescope Astronomers get to ask some of the most fundamental questions there are, ranging from whether we’re alone in the cosmos to what the nature of the mysterious dark energy and dark matter making up most of the universe is. Now a large group of astronomers from all over the world is building the biggest optical telescope ever – the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) – in Chile. Once construction is completed in 2028, it could provide answers that transform our knowledge of the universe. With its 39-meter (128-foot) diameter primary mirror, the ELT will contain the largest, most perfect reflecting surface ever made. Its light-collecting power will exceed that of all other large telescopes combined, enabling it to detect objects millions of times fainter than the human eye can see. There are several reasons why we need such a telescope. Its incredible sensitivity will let it image some of the first galaxies ever formed, with light that has traveled for 13 billion years to reach the telescope. Observations of such distant objects may allow us to refine our understanding of cosmology and the nature of dark matter and dark energy. The 2024 lunar calendars are here! Best Christmas gifts in the universe! Check ’em out here. Alien life The ELT may also offer an answer to the most fundamental question of all: Are we alone in the universe? The ELT is expected to be the first telescope to track down Earth-like exoplanets. These are planets that orbit other stars but have a similar mass, orbit and proximity to their host as Earth. Occupying the so-called Goldilocks zone, these Earth-like planets will orbit their star at just the right distance for water to neither boil nor freeze, providing the conditions for life to exist. The ELT’s camera will have six times better resolution than that of the James Webb Space Telescope. This resolution will allow it to take the clearest images yet of exoplanets. But fascinating as these pictures will be, they will not tell the whole story. To learn if life is likely to exist on an exoplanet, astronomers must complement imaging with spectroscopy. While images reveal shape, size and structure, spectra tell us about the speed, temperature and even the chemistry of astronomical objects. View larger. | Size comparison between the ELT and other telescope domes. Image via ESO/ Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 4.0). The world’s largest optical telescope will examine exoplanets The ELT will contain not one but four spectrographs. Spectrographs are instruments that disperse light into its constituent colors, much like the iconic prism on the Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon album cover. Each about the size of a minibus, and carefully environmentally controlled for stability, these spectrographs underpin all of the ELT’s key science cases. For giant exoplanets, the Harmoni instrument will analyze light that has traveled through their atmospheres, looking for the signs of water, oxygen, methane, carbon dioxide and other gases that indicate the existence of life. To detect much smaller Earth-like exoplanets, the more specialized Andes instrument will be needed. With a cost of around €35 million (£30 million or $38 million), Andes will be able to detect tiny changes in the wavelength of light. From previous satellite missions, astronomers already have a good idea of where to look in the sky for exoplanets. Indeed, there have been several thousand confirmed or “candidate” exoplanets detected using the transit method. Here, a space telescope stares at a patch of sky containing thousands of stars and looks for tiny, periodic dips in their intensities, caused when an orbiting planet passes in front of its star. Looking for tiny wobbles But Andes will use a different method to hunt for other Earths. As an exoplanet orbits its host star, its gravity tugs on the star, making it wobble. This movement is incredibly small. Earth’s orbit causes the sun to oscillate at just 10 centimeters per second … the walking speed of a tortoise. Just as the pitch of an ambulance siren rises and falls as it travels toward and away from us, the wavelength of light observed from a wobbling star increases and decreases as the planet traces out its orbit. Artist’s impression of ELT. Image via ESO/ L. Calçada/ Wikipedia (CC BY 4.0). Extreme precision Remarkably, Andes will be able to detect this minuscule change in the light’s color. Starlight, while essentially continuous (“white”) from the ultraviolet to the infrared, contains bands where atoms in the outer region of the star absorb specific wavelengths as the light escapes, appearing dark in the spectra. Tiny shifts in the positions of these features – around 1/10,000th of a pixel on the Andes sensor – may, over months and years, reveal the periodic wobbles. This could ultimately help us to find an Earth 2.0. At Heriot-Watt University, we are piloting the development of a laser system known as a frequency comb. This system will enable Andes to reach such exquisite precision. Like the millimeter ticks on a ruler, the laser will calibrate the Andes spectrograph by providing a spectrum of light structured as thousands of regularly spaced wavelengths. This scale will remain constant over decades, mitigating the measurement errors that occur from environmental changes in temperature and pressure. With the ELT’s construction cost coming in at €1.45 billion ($1.58 billion), some will question the value of the project. But astronomy has a significance that spans millennia and transcends cultures and national borders. It is only by looking far outside our solar system that we can gain a perspective beyond the here and now. Derryck Telford Reid, Professor of Physics, Heriot-Watt University This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article. Bottom line: The world’s largest optical telescope will be the Extremely Large Telescope, currently under construction in the Chilean desert. It will get a good look at exoplanets, including their atmospheres, and help us look for life in our galaxy.The post World’s largest optical telescope – the ELT – going up in Chile first appeared on EarthSky.

Cleaning up one of the world’s most commonly used substances

C-Crete, founded by Rouzbeh Savary PhD ’11, has created a cement alternative that could significantly reduce the industry’s carbon dioxide emissions.

This past July, in the dusty basement of a building in Seattle, Washington, about 60 tons of concrete were poured as part of the renovation of a historic building. To an outsider, it looked like just another job site. Even to the workers pouring and shaping the concrete that day, it was more or less business as usual. In fact, the messy, decidedly unglamorous occasion marked a milestone in the race to reduce gigatons of global CO2 emissions. That’s because the concrete was made using a more sustainable binding material developed by the startup C-Crete. For C-Crete founder and president Rouzbeh Savary PhD ’11, the fact that the work went on as normal was a huge success. That’s because cleaning up an industry as large and conservative as construction is going to require a seamless, inexpensive transition. “I am glad that we didn’t start with a flagship building that may signal only wealthy corporations can afford it,” Savary explains. “Cement is so abundant and such a low-cost commodity that if a new product aims to impact its CO2 emissions, it must penetrate into mass market, where everyone can resonate with and afford it.” Decarbonizing concrete would make a truly meaningful reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Although estimates vary, the International Energy Agency found the cement industry is responsible for about 7 percent of human-caused CO2 emissions across the globe. Concrete is the second most-used substance in the world after water. Savary likes to say that even water use is inflated in that ranking because it’s used to make concrete. C-Crete’s patent-pending materials bind with locally available mineral feedstocks and industrial byproducts to make cement-free concrete. The materials can be manufactured without the high temperatures needed for portland cement production, reducing energy requirements. The company says C-Crete’s binder also absorbs CO2 over time, further greening up the lifecycle of the material. “Our vision is to be able to use local Earth’s crust composition to make cementitious binders,” Savary says. “Cement’s use is ubiquitous and there is no need to ship it across the globe.” Now, with what Savary calls the first pour of portland-cement-free concrete in the U.S. under its belt in Seattle, C-Crete is hoping to capitalize on broad interest and partnerships to scale rapidly. “A single material can have such a big impact,” Savary says. “We’re aiming to reinvent century-old portland cement using local materials, and to get this adopted in construction.” From the $100K to a product In the late 2000s, Savary pursued his PhD in MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. But he also took courses in materials science, business, and physics in order to further his understanding of cement. He also joined the newly formed MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub while at MIT “Cement science is an interdisciplinary area, so I had to educate myself through different fields,” Savary says. “That exposed me to technologies and startups in different disciplines. I met several companies trying to address issues with composite materials and energy efficiency, and I tried to wrap my head around how I could learn something from those problems and solutions and apply them to my own complex material.” At the time, the concept of low-carbon cement was still in its infancy, but that didn’t stop Savary from proposing a lower-carbon alternative to the superabundant material at the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition. Savary won the competition, which allowed him to further pursue the idea. He founded C-Crete in 2010, his last year at MIT. “I am grateful to MIT for giving me the opportunity to dream big,” Savary says. “We’re not executing at the level we want yet, but we are on a good track. MIT was a big factor in seeding the idea, nurturing it in the beginning, and building the confidence to tackle this hard-to-abate, carbon-heavy industry head on.” Over the next decade, Savary continued tinkering with material combinations. To make concrete today, workers mix portland cement with water, which creates a paste that binds to materials like sand and rock. Cement production accounts for the expensive and carbon-intensive portion of concrete, so Savary wanted to find a set of molecules that could produce a cement-like binder. “In our lab we probably identified around 2,000 formulas that didn’t work,” Savary says. “But after each failure over the years, we took the lessons and said, ‘Okay, another one down.’ We were narrowing our options, though it was not quite Edisonian and we had some guidelines.” The molecular combination C-Crete finally settled on is still under wraps as the company waits for its patents, but third-party testing has found that it meets the performance requirements of portland cement, such as strength and flowability. “Because the industry is so used to portland cement, and also because of the liabilities involved in construction projects, if a new product is complicated to use or behaves differently, contractors and workers won’t switch,” Savary says. “It had better be a drop-in technology that bears minimal to no changes in the current behavior of concrete, from its dry mix components to its liquid and hardened stages. We wanted to make C-Crete as easy and as close as possible to conventional practices.” C-Crete has received strong interest in partnerships, including from ready-mix companies, which operate the trucks with the spinning cement container in the back. “All they need to do is get our binder and swap it with portland cement,” Savary says. “The resulting concrete has the same mix design. It’s the same ratio of gravel to cement and sand to cement and admixtures.” Making green cement a reality C-Crete’s current production facility can produce tens of tons of its binder per day. A typical cement manufacturer can produce more than 2,000 tons a day. But the company plans to partner with manufacturers to scale up quickly, and Savary has received inquiries from architects, engineers, construction companies, and building owners around the world to use C-Crete’s binder. “Because of the concern about carbon emissions, more and more people are interested in solving this issue,” Savary says. C-Crete also continues to innovate on its materials. This month, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded the company $2 million to develop ways to use carbon dioxide captured from the air in its concrete, which would make it carbon negative. Earlier in September, C-Crete received another approximately $1 million from the department to expand the types of materials it can use to make its cement-free concrete. But for now, C-Crete is primarily focused on scaling the production and deployment of its existing technology. Fortunately, Savary believes the industry is starting to share his sense of urgency about the problem. “Since my time at MIT, when we didn’t see as much interest from the market, everything has changed,” Savary says. “We seem to be at the tipping point. Now there’s a good product-market fit. Once we scale up and execute as planned, it will lead to enormous impact.”

The world’s biggest carbon capture facility is being built in Texas. Will it work?

The plant will inject 500,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the ground each year – but is it just greenwashing from big oil?

This story was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. Rising out of the arid scrubland of western Texas is the world’s largest project yet to remove excess carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, a quest that has been lauded as essential to help avert climate catastrophe. The creators of the project have now been awarded funding from the Biden administration, even as critics attack the technology as a fossil fuel industry-backed distraction. Proponents of setting up enormous fans to gulp in huge amounts of air and remove planet-heating carbon from it, a process called direct air capture (DAC), are basking in their greatest breakthroughs yet in the US. In June, ceremonial shovels were plunged into the dirt in Ector County, Texas, to mark the start of a $1 billion project called Stratos, which aims to remove 500,000 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere a year once fully operational in 2025. The advent of the 65-acre (26-hectare) site, which will be marked by a vast network of pipes, buildings and fans to scrub CO2 from the air and then inject it into underground rock formations, was solemnly likened to the Apollo 13 moon mission by Lori Guetre, vice-president of Carbon Engineering, the Canadian-founded company spearheading Stratos, during the groundbreaking. “This time the Earth has some serious complications, and it needs the brightest minds,” Guetre said, adding that “that the world is watching and counting on us … The team’s will to overcome is quiet, steady, and unwavering.” This milestone was followed, in August, by President Joe Biden’s Department of Energy announcing that two facilities – one a separate venture by Carbon Engineering, in the southern reaches of Texas – will be given $1.2 billion to act as DAC “hubs” to help jumpstart the carbon-removal industry in the US while also purging more than 2 million tons of CO2 from the atmosphere between them. A further two hubs will be chosen by the federal government, as part of a $3.5 billion effort to help create a market for carbon that will be “crucial to tackling climate change”, according to Jennifer Granholm, the US secretary of energy. The commitments to remove such volumes of CO2 is a step-change for a direct air capture industry still nascent, small-scale, and unproven in its capacity to curb the worsening climate crisis, even as hope, and dollars, are ladled upon it. “It’s an extraordinarily big moment for carbon removal right now and for direct air capture in particular,” said Erin Burns, executive director of Carbon180, a climate NGO that works on a range of different carbon-removal options. “There’s too much CO2 in the atmosphere. People are already feeling the impacts of climate change. We need to address legacy emissions and direct air capture could play a big role in that.” But some climate campaigners have argued that DAC is, at best, a costly irrelevance to the more pressing need to cut emissions and, at worst, a cynical ploy by the fossil fuel industry to maintain its polluting status quo. The Stratos project is ultimately owned by Occidental Petroleum, an American oil company that bought Carbon Engineering for $1.1 billion last month and views carbon removal as a sort of future-proofing for its industry. “We believe that our direct capture technology is going to be the technology that helps to preserve our industry over time,” Vicki Hollub, Occidental’s chief executive, told an industry conference in March. “This gives our industry a license to continue to operate for the 60, 70, 80 years that I think it’s going to be very much needed.” While Occidental maintains that the CO2 captured in Texas will be stored underground and used as a sort of carbon credit system for other companies to purchase, the company also touts itself as an exemplar of what it calls “net zero oil,” whereby removed CO2 is injected into rock formations to dislodge gas and oil for further extraction. Read Next A look inside the plan to store carbon at the bottom of the Black Sea James Jackson “We are going to pay an oil company to pump crap out of the ground and then pay them to put some back in – it’s plainly obvious this isn’t a climate solution,” said Jonathan Foley, executive director of Project Drawdown, which works on responses to the climate emergency. “It’s just so silly. If you just buried dollar bills it would make more sense. This has just given big oil decades of talking points to promote a fake solution so they don’t have to stop polluting today; it’s a huge greenwashing exercise and we are falling for it.” Foley said the Biden administration would be justified in spending a smaller amount on helping academia research direct air capture, to help mop up stubbornly persistent emissions from sources such as concrete and steel manufacture, or aviation. But giving oil companies public money for such ventures is “unconscionable,” he said, and reminiscent of the mostly fruitless backing of carbon capture and storage – the effort to capture emissions at source from power plants and other industrial facilities that has failed to catch on despite enjoying bipartisan support in Congress. “When it comes to throwing funding at big industries for things that have never been demonstrated at scale, there’s suddenly a lot of money for it,” Foley said. “I’ve seen this movie many times before. This is clearly playing into the big oil playbook, and to subsidize that with public money is crazy.” There is now a yawning gap between the amount of carbon that scientists estimate will have to be removed from the atmosphere to avoid breaching dangerous global heating thresholds and the actual amount of carbon removal currently happening, or even planned. Human activity, primarily through burning coal, oil and gas, produces about 36 billion tons of CO2 emissions a year. Given how emissions have grown in recent years despite urgent warnings of an unfolding climate crisis, there is little chance of the rapid, massive cuts needed – by as much as half this decade – to avoid severely escalating heatwaves, floods, drought and other impacts. This shortfall, according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), means almost every plausible scenario to avoid 2C of warming above pre-industrial times, and certainly 1.5C warming, which countries have agreed to, involves removing large amounts of CO2 directly from the atmosphere. Up to 10 billion tons of CO2, which is double the U.S.’s total annual emissions, may have to be removed each year by 2050 just to secure a chance of hitting these goals and get to net zero emissions. “Carbon dioxide removal is essential to achieve net zero,” as Diána Ürge-Vorsatz, vice-chair of the IPCC working group on the matter, put it last year. The IPCC says this could be done in a number of ways, such as by reforesting large areas, given that trees are the original, and best, carbon dioxide removers, or via something called bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (also known as BECCS), which involves burning trees and other vegetation for energy and capturing the resulting emissions before they escape into the atmosphere. But issues with these alternatives – such as the vast amount of land required and uncertainties over “lost” carbon from trees due to a growing threat of wildfires – has only added to the allure of DAC, even though it remains very much in its infancy. Today, there are only 18 facilities worldwide that remove carbon from the air and store it underground, capturing less than 10,000 tons of CO2 a year, which is as much as the carbon footprint of just a few hundred Americans. Companies such as Climeworks, which has led the way until now with its plant in Iceland, and Carbon Engineering, which has said it could achieve 100 million tons of CO2 removal in little more than a decade from now, have remained bullish that this equation will swiftly change. Meanwhile, businesses such as Alphabet, the parent company of Google, and McKinsey have started to purchase carbon removal themselves. To facilitate this, Carbon Engineering would need to build dozens of new facilities that push air across surfaces containing a potassium hydroxide solution that chemically binds to the CO2 molecules, separating them from the air and trapping them in the liquid solution as a carbonate salt. This would require huge amounts of money and a vast ramp-up of technology, even to make just a modest dent in the carbon debt. The Stratos facility itself would eliminate “about 260 seconds of the world’s emissions, if they could do that annually,” said Foley, working on a calculation based around there being about 36bn tons of CO2 emissions a year. “This isn’t something that is ready for prime time.” It’s unlikely that direct air capture alone will remove all 10 billion tons a year required by 2050, according to Burns, who added there remains “a million questions” about DAC, such as the amount of energy it will require and environmental justice concerns from communities over where and how CO2 is stored underground. “But I think we’ve seen direct air capture can be an entry point for a lot of different people to support larger climate action,” she said. “It’s about investing in a portfolio of carbon-removal solutions. There’s a sense of the need to play catch-up on mitigation, because we’re already behind where we should be on reducing emissions.” This story was originally published by Grist with the headline The world’s biggest carbon capture facility is being built in Texas. Will it work? on Sep 27, 2023.

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