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This Startup Says It's Figured Out How to Trap Carbon Affordably

Graphyte says it has found a cheaper way to trap carbon emissions underground.


By Alejandro de la Garza, TIME


In the overlapping worlds of climate science and Silicon Valley, there are a great many people who say that building huge systems to remove carbon from the atmosphere is going to become a massive business—in fact, that it will have to be if humanity is to have a chance of keeping the earth’s warming to relatively safe levels. Startups in the brand new space are trying dozens of approaches, from massive fans to suck carbon dioxide out of the air, to schemes that would gather biomass from leftover crop waste, convert it into carbon-rich slurry, and then pump it underground (plants absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, and if they are left to decompose naturally, they release that carbon back into the atmosphere.)

One of the main factors holding back these methods of capturing and removing carbon emissions is cost. Most of the current technologies are currently extremely expensive—often costing around $600 for every ton of sequestered CO2. Academics and industry experts generally agree that getting costs down below $100 per ton of sequestered CO2 would be the point at which, economically, such massive carbon capture schemes become feasible. Many of the largest carbon removal startups project that level of affordability is years or even decades away.


A Bill Gates-backed startup called Graphyte, however, says it’s hit that cost benchmark. In an announcement this morning, Graphyte claims that its new carbon sequestration technique beats the $100 per ton bar—though it declined to specify exactly what its internal cost per ton is. It has not completed a pilot plant yet—that facility will come next year—but it says there’s nothing holding it back from rapidly scaling up. (The company has not yet sold the carbon removal service to potential buyers, but it says it will be announcing offtake agreements soon.)


Graphyte’s approach, which it refers to as carbon casting, works by gathering crop waste or other carbon-rich biomass, drying it, and compressing it into large blocks. Then the blocks are sealed with a special polymer, stacked, and buried, with sensors to monitor the carbon blocks to make sure that the sealant is holding up (if the sealant is broken, the block of biomass would likely start to decompose, releasing CO2 back into the atmosphere). Graphyte says its approach will keep that carbon securely stored for 1,000 years or longer.


Read the full article in TIME.


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