Placing weather-optimistic company thoughts into exercise

Extra and much more ETH Zurich scientists are taking the plunge into entrepreneurship. By launching spin-​offs, they hope to convert their lab findings into answers that can help stem the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

There is no shortage of proof for what the Fifth Evaluation Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Weather Transform (IPCC) describes as an “unequivocal warming of the weather system”. At no level in the past 800,000 several years has the focus of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere been as superior as it is these days. Since 1750, human action has induced 555 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to be introduced into the atmosphere, elevating the concentration of carbon dioxide by 40 per cent over pre-​industrial ranges. In between 1880 and 2012, the average temperature of the Earth’s area rose by .85 degrees Celsius. And with worldwide snow and ice include steadily shrinking, sea concentrations are soaring by an typical of 3 millimetres a 12 months.

Researchers are united in their belief that humanity must do all the things in its power to gradual the rise in the focus of greenhouse gases in the ambiance, or even reverse it. There has been a obvious maximize in endeavours by ETH Zurich researchers to come up with likely methods for weather adjust. And escalating quantities of them are also venturing past the partitions of academia and striving to set climate-​positive small business strategies into observe. Of the 242 spin-​offs established at ETH Zurich since 2010, 34 are pursuing methods to beat global warming. In this article, we choose a closer glance at two illustrations: a person from the power sector, the other from the 
construction marketplace.

Carbon-​neutral fuels designed from sunlight and air

Considering the fact that its founding in 2016, Synhelion has been doing work on a little something that appears pretty much also superior to be legitimate: a solar technology that can reverse the combustion system. The company’s mission is to make artificial liquid fuels solely from sunlight and air. Known as solar fuels, these release only as considerably CO2 throughout combustion as was previously extracted from the air in 
order to create them, thus supplying them the likely to make the transport industry practically carbon-​neutral. Taken as a complete, air, sea and street transport at present launch some 8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, making it liable for a quarter of anthropogenic CO2 emissions.

“We feel that liquid photo voltaic fuels have an significant function to engage in in the electrical power changeover,” claims Gianluca Ambrosetti, CEO of Synhelion. He rightly details out that no other power carrier arrives near to matching the strength density and extended-​term storage capabilities of liquid fuels. “What’s much more, our solar fuels are a drop-​in technological know-how, which signifies they do not call for any additional infrastructure,” suggests Ambrosetti. “They can be processed in existing refineries and dispersed through the network of filling stations that is now in position.”

Really concentrated solar radiation

Synhelion’s ingenious solar technologies is centered on 3 improvements at first formulated by a group of scientists led by Aldo Steinfeld, Professor of Renewable Vitality Carriers at ETH Zurich. Synhelion is now trying to find to acquire these improvements to the up coming level. The 1st is the photo voltaic receiver, a black chamber made up of a greenhouse gasoline. Photo voltaic radiation – concentrated various thousand moments by mirrors – shines through the quartz glass window that fronts this chamber and heats up the fuel to nicely about 1,000 degrees Celsius. The 2nd innovation is the ceramic foam engineering used in the thermochemical reactor. When heated to a ample temperature by the hot gas, this reactor is capable to break up water and carbon dioxide to create syngas, a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Traditional techniques can then be employed to convert this syngas into liquid fuels this sort of as methanol, gasoline and kerosene. The third innovation is a thermal strength-​storage technique that can be applied to drive the reactor procedures at night time and on overcast times.

A 12 months and a fifty percent have handed since Steinfeld and his team established up a mini-​refinery, which makes close to just one decilitre of methanol a day, on the roof of the Machine Laboratory developing at ETH
Zurich. “This pilot plant proves that we can make sustainable gas from daylight and air less than serious-​life ailments,” states Steinfeld.

The following target, claims Ambrosetti, is to scale up the processes, maximize the performance and drive down charges. Ambrosetti acknowledges that persons may have doubts about scalability: “I think it will be at least five far more yrs right before we can start off applying this technological innovation on an industrial scale.” Which is why Synhelion is establishing an interim remedy, recognized as solar upgrading, to shorten the time to industry. “By adding methane to the mixture of water vapour and carbon dioxide gasoline, the temperature essential for thermochemical conversion into syngas can be diminished to as minor as 800 levels Celsius,” claims Ambrosetti. “This simplifies the full process, which usually means it should really only just take us two much more yrs to get to the level the place we can deliver affordable solar fuels that launch 50 percent the net CO2 emissions of fossil fuels.”

Turning carbon dioxide into stone

Neustark – an ETH spin-​off founded in 2019 – is pursuing a business enterprise design primarily based on an fully diverse idea. The company is developing a technological know-how that turns carbon dioxide into stone by binding it with concrete aggregate, thereby transforming it into substantial-​grade limestone. The positive aspects incorporate each an upgraded mixture and extensive-​term carbon storage. “The building sector has so far manufactured little progress in minimizing emissions – and that’s simply because so a great deal research just gets filed absent and by no means applied,” claims Johannes Tiefenthaler, a person of the spin-​off’s two founders. “I would like to see the hard work that I’m putting 
into my doctorate make a tangible distinction somewhere.”

As section of his Master’s diploma, Tiefenthaler was previously investigating different means of converting carbon dioxide into limestone by reacting it with minerals. There are adequate minerals on Earth to bind hundreds of billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide. Having said that, as Tiefenthaler clarifies, lots of of them – these as magnesium silicate – are not notably reactive, so they will have to first be heated to 700 degrees Celsius. In distinction, demolition rubble damaged into concrete combination has tested to be highly reactive thanks to the enormous whole area spot of the several particles, each just a handful of millimetres in size. As a outcome, the concrete aggregate forms extremely stable chemical compounds with carbon dioxide, without having the will need for any pre-​treatment.

“What I really like about this remedy is that it is prepared to go now, not just in five or ten many years,” claims economist Valentin 
Gutknecht, Neustark’s 2nd founder. The key problem ideal now, he says, is juggling all the different troubles included. “As properly as making sure the attributes of the concrete are precisely proper, we also have to navigate the convoluted world wide web of CO2 certification.”

Destructive CO2 emissions supply financial advantages

Although Tiefenthaler will work at the Office of Mechanical and Approach Engineering to supply the next generation of technologies for the mineralisation of carbon dioxide, Gutknecht and an at any time-​growing workforce of personnel are occupied focusing on the operational facet of the enterprise. As portion of a venture funded by the Federal Workplace for the Natural environment and the Swiss Local climate Basis, Neustark has established up a pilot plant at the Kästli concrete operates in Rubigen around Bern. Element of this pilot plant is a vivid orange, skip-​like container, in which liquid CO2 is added to rubble from demolished concrete structures. Right after soaking in the tub of carbon dioxide for around two hours, the items of concrete rubble may well nonetheless look the exact, but they weigh drastically far more because the small pores in the tough floor of the concrete have absorbed approximately 10 kilograms of CO2 for every cubic metre.

The carbon dioxide types a chemical bond with the calcium oxide in the concrete rubble. This creates limestone crystals, which drastically enrich the characteristics of the concrete mixture: by making use of this recycled, upgraded combination to make fresh concrete, the exact strength and rigidity can be attained with a lot less cement. Concrete production around the world releases over 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the air each individual 12 months. This represents all over 7 percent of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. By reducing the total of cement needed in building, Neustark’s know-how can aid cut down the industry’s carbon footprint by eradicating some of the emissions that would usually arise through the generation of cement.

But Gutknecht and Tiefenthaler are quick to place out a further crucial gain: thanks to their ingenious technique of capturing carbon dioxide from the air, soaking it into the pores of the concrete combination and binding it completely into limestone, they can even reverse CO2 emissions. “There are quite few technical concepts that supply legitimate destructive emissions,” claims Tiefenthaler. Use of these concepts has so far been minimal thanks to a deficiency of efficient incentive strategies and small business types. “This is the place our method is special, mainly because it displays how binding carbon dioxide can build added benefit. The enhanced traits of the concrete combination establish that destructive emissions really don’t have to raise fees, but can truly give financial advantages,” states Gutknecht.