Speeding up CO2 removal from the air

When I first began reading about ‘direct air capture’ – removing CO2 from the air – I remember seeing a lot of stories that said something like ‘this is interesting but it will never be practical’. But there were also stories that said this is going to be as big an opportunity as Henry Ford’s Model T.  Several major prize competitions have been accelerating things..

This year has been a winning one for Project Hajar, which is combining direct air capture and mineralization, in Oman. It brings together Mission Zero Technologies, and 44.01, which just won of the five Earthshots 2022 prizes for speeding up the natural process by which CO2 turns into a mineral that is extremely common in Oman.

Unlike carbon ‘storage’, which involves burying CO2 underground in abandoned oil-wells or aquifers, mineralisation removes CO2 forever, says Earthshots. This eliminates the need for long-term monitoring or insurance, making the process more cost-effective, scalable and safer.

44.01 team (Earthshots Prize)

44.01’s first project will mineralise 1,000 tonnes of locally-captured CO2 every year until 2024, says Earthshots. As the world transitions to clean forms of energy, 44.01 is also providing new employment to engineers and geologists working in the fossil fuel industry. As Oman has the largest concentration of peridotite in the world, carbon mineralisation could also be a boon for workers in the region. By 2040, the company aspires to have removed 1 billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosph

Earlier in the year, Project Hajar was among the top fifteen $1M Milestone Prize winners  for the XPRIZE Carbon Removal competition – the largest incentive prize in history, valued at $100M and funded by Elon Musk and the Musk Foundation.

Project Hajar says it connects two complementary technologies to unlock gigatons of CO2 removal in the Al Hajar mountains of the Sultanate of Oman. “The project, to be fully powered by renewables, combines MZT’s proprietary electrochemical direct air capture technology with 44.01’s permanent sequestration capabilities via mineralisation in peridotite formations.”

Peridotite, widely studied for its CO2 mineralisation potential, is naturally abundant in Oman’s geology. 44.01 has found a way to dramatically speed up the natural weathering process.

Project Hajar (from 44.01 website)

Over 1,100 teams were registered for the XPrize competition and nearly 300 eligible projects were submitted for the Milestone Prizes. Teams had to provide technical demonstrations of their proposed solutions at any scale, and project the economics and lifecycle analysis for both the 1000 ton/year and Megaton scales. 68 expert reviewers screened applications in four broad categories: direct air capture, ocean-based solutions, land-based solutions, and mineralisation. Shortlisted applications were then assessed by 12 expert judges who chose the 15 Milestone Prize winners.

“One year in, we already see the positive impact of the prize: hundreds of groups working on a wide range of promising carbon removal solutions. Not just ideas, but development and deployment plans, which is exactly what we need. The pace and depth of initiatives in carbon removal and other crucial climate solutions has never been greater, but we still need more—more and deeper emissions cuts, and more reliable, validated carbon removal solutions. That’s why we launched this prize in the first place,” said Dr. Marcius Extavour, chief scientist and vice president of climate and environment at XPRIZE.

The XPRIZE Carbon Removal competition’s $80M Grand Prize pool, due to be awarded in 2025, requires all eligible teams to have delivered 1000 tons of verified carbon removal. 

“We started 44.01 because of our deep concern for the state of our planet,” says Talal Hasan of 44.01 .Removing carbon from the atmosphere is imperative to avoid the most disastrous effects of climate change, and once captured, has to be stored or eliminated. 44.01’s process is safe, quick and cost-effective, he says.

44.01, which has also received recognition and support from Shopify and Stripe, was one of three finalists in the Earthshot Prize’s “Fix Our Climate” category. The Earthshot Prize is judged by an international council of leaders from the fields of business, philanthropy, science and entertainment who look for tested, scalable solutions that can help repair the climate and prevent further harm. The winners of each category,  announced on Dec. 2, 2022, are each awarded £1 million.

Related Stories:

Carbon Removal Is Coming to Fossil Fuel Country. Can It Bring Jobs and Climate Action? Inside Climate News, Dec. 4, 2022

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