Last spring, as Laura Stieghorst watched Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket take off from Cape Canaveral, the University of Miami’s undergrad wanted the billionaire to spend as much money saving the planet from climate change as he allowed. people to leave it.
Days later, Stieghorst was delighted to learn that the Musk Foundation had launched the $ 100 million XPRIZE Carbon Removal project, a global competition to generate ideas for extracting and sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or the ocean.–and the awards included a total of $ 5 million for student ideas.
Stieghorst immediately got to work. She spent her summer researching various methods of removing carbon from the ocean and was intrigued by those that would increase the alkalinity of the water and neutralize the acidification which, along with warming waters, endangers coral reefs and other marine ecosystems. She contacted Greg Rau, a renowned carbon cycle expert who patented such a process, and then recruited a team of students and faculty from five schools in the University. They spent seven intense weeks developing a proposal for the XPRIZE.
On Wednesday, Stieghorst and members of his Accelerated Carbonate Ion Dissolution and Dispersion (ACIDD) student team – Isabella Arosemena, Zach Berkowitz, Jeanette Betke, Isabelle Fitzpatrick, Anwar Khan, Eden Leder, Nancy Lewis and Drew Rich – learned that their work had paid off. . XPRIZE announced that ACIDD is one of five student projects awarded $ 100,000 to advance Musk’s goal of removing 1 billion tonnes of CO₂ per year from the atmosphere.
Now Stieghorst, who will graduate in December with a degree in ecosystem science and policy, recognizes that now the hard work really begins. “I’m over the moon,” she said. “I was so confident in the solution that I imagined it would happen. But everything we did was theoretical. So, now we have to prove that the idea works in the real world and on a large scale. “
ACIDD’s proposal was based on a process developed by Rau, CTO and co-founder of Planetary hydrogen, a carbon capture startup. The process generates a low-carbon form of alkalinity by using waste from mining, renewable water and electricity, and harvesting valuable byproducts such as hydrogen, an ingredient key to a carbon-free energy system. When added to the ocean, alkalinity improves the ocean’s uptake of CO₂ from the air while countering local ocean acidification.
“Basically it’s like a big Alka Seltzer,” Stieghorst said. “When the tablet dissolves in water, it can neutralize the acid. The distribution of this liquid in the ocean will have a similar effect. Accelerating it on a human scale can safely block our anthropogenic carbon emissions for more than 100,000 years. “
In collaboration with Planetary Hydrogen, the ACIDD team will assess the environmental impact of the process by measuring its effects on laboratory corals.
The team’s educational advisors, Chris Langdon, a professor at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science who was instrumental in connecting Stieghorst to planetary hydrogen, and Esber Andiroglu, associate professor of practice in the Department of Engineering civil, architectural and environmental, guided the students through the XPRIZE proposal, with the support of Planetary Hydrogen. Now, with the ACIDD Team Prize in hand, the two teams plan to work together to advance their common goal of unleashing the power of the oceans to tackle the climate crisis and win the great XPRIZE in 2025.
“Laura and her team are an inspiration to everyone working to advance climate solutions,” said Jason Vallis, vice president of external relations for Planetary Hydrogen. “We were extremely impressed with his leadership in launching this project and we are delighted to learn of the team’s success in the XPRIZE student competition. We look forward to working together to bring the elimination of carbon dioxide from the oceans to the forefront. “
The partnership is a partnership that Langdon, who studies the biology and ecology of corals, has the potential to expand important research in the future. “Corals are a super delicate organism,” he said. “If we can show that we can add Planetary Hydrogen to water and that it does not harm the health of corals – or even improve their health – it could go a long way in convincing people that one more experience. large scale be sure to try.
For his part, Stieghorst looks forward to the day when the work of the ACIDD team will be to create a market and social acceptance for oceanic carbon dioxide removal technologies. “CO2 is invisible. Alkalinity is complicated, ”she said. “If we create a solution that will hopefully one day go global, you will need a lot of public support. “
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