Musk backs Britain! Tesla CEO pumps £800k into start-up working to save the planet

Carbon dioxide: Scientists show how to turn it back to coal

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The firm, “Mission Zero”, is presently based in a railway arch in Bethnal Green, east London, but is looking to open a pilot plant in Norfolk next year. They are aiming to sequester the captured carbon dioxide into something useful — specifically, building materials. Mission Zero CEO Nicholas Chadwick told the Times: “If we can get this to work, we have a technology that can sequester megatonnes of carbon dioxide.”

The venture is the first of its kind to be trialled in the UK, and has been funded to the tune of $6million (£4.9million).

The lion’s share of this — $5million (£4million) — has come from Breakthrough Energy Ventures.

This is a fund led by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and the London-based mining company Anglo American.

The remaining $1million (£0.8million) has been provided by a foundation established by Mr Musk, who is currently thought to be the world’s richest person.

There is significant debate among the scientific community on whether it is actually feasible to address the developing climate crisis with so-called direct air carbon capture technologies.

However, most estimates suggest that such will be necessary to avoid the worst effects of climate change down the line — with a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions unlikely to be an adequate action on its own.

Experts have suggested that it will be necessary to supplement this with the extraction and safe storage of billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide from both the atmosphere and the world’s oceans.

To date, however, fewer than 10,000 tonnes of the greenhouse gas have been sequestered globally — which may equate to just a millionth of the amount we need to be extracting on an annual basis.

Mission Zero’s prototype direct air capture machine works by first using fans to suck in air, passing the flow over a water-based solvent.

Carbon dioxide from this air flow dissolves in the solvent, which then passes into a chamber divided by a special membrane.

At this point, the carbon can be thought of as negatively charged bicarbonate ions — and so when an electrical current is applied across the chamber, these ions can be concentrated on one side of the membrane.

Eventually, the carbon bubbles back out of the chamber in the form of pure carbon dioxide — which can then be sold as is, or sequestered into various building materials.

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When their pilot plant — to be located near Thetford, in Norfolk — is complete, Mission Zero intends to start practical trials.

They are presently looking to combine their captured carbon with so-called fly ash, a waste produced by coal-fired power plants, in order to produce building aggregates.

According to the firm, their particular approach should require only around a third of the energy used by rival carbon removal start-ups.

This includes Climeworks AG, a Swiss company headquartered in Zurich that runs the world’s largest direct air carbon capture plant near Reykjavik, Iceland.

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