Iowa State Team Receives XPRIZE Carbon Removal Milestone Award for Innovative Vision to Remove Carbon from the Atmosphere
Newswise – AMES, Iowa – An Iowa State University research team that helped develop a demonstration-scale pyrolyzer capable of sequestering thousands of tons of carbon dioxide per year has received a prestigious milestone award of XPRIZE Carbon Removal, it was announced on Friday.
The milestone award provides $1 million to the Bioeconomy Institute’s Carbon Removal Team to help advance its vision of using pyrolysis to remove carbon dioxide, a gas major greenhouse effect, from the atmosphere, thereby slowing down climate change. The Carbon Removal Team is also in the running for an even bigger prize from XPRIZE of up to $50 million to be determined in 2025. XPRIZE announced 15 milestone awards on Friday to coincide with Earth Day, selecting the winners from a field of 1,133 teams seeking to fight climate change by finding innovative ways to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
Robert Brown, Iowa State’s Anson Marston Professor Emeritus of Engineering, Gary and Donna Hoover Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and co-director of the Iowa State Bioeconomy Institute, said this The significant award validates the research team’s approach to carbon sequestration, which focuses on a process known as pyrolysis. During pyrolysis, biomass is heated in the absence of oxygen, producing a carbon-rich material called biochar, which is a form of charcoal. Brown and his team have shown that biochar is an efficient way to store carbon in soil, a practice known as sequestration, which keeps carbon out of the atmosphere.
How Pyrolysis Sequesters Carbon
Plants extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to produce biomass as part of photosynthesis. But this carbon storage is often temporary. When plants die and decompose, they release this stored carbon into the atmosphere. The Bioeconomy Institute’s Carbon Removal Team uses biomass from crop residues, wood and perennial grasses as stocks for pyrolysis while the plant matter is still carbon-rich. The biochar resulting from the process can be added to agricultural fields, gardens, or yards as a soil amendment that improves soil health and further increases carbon storage potential.
Pyrolysis also produces a thick, viscous liquid called bio-oil, which can be refined into renewable diesel fuel or bio-asphalt, a renewable substitute for petroleum-based asphalt.
Iowa State currently has two pyrolyzers, a lab-scale unit installed at the Biorenewables Research Lab campus and a larger pilot unit at the BioCentury Research Farm outside of Ames. . The Carbon Removal Team has partnered with Iowa-based Stine Seed Company and Frontline Bioenergy to build a demonstration-scale pyrolyzer near Redfield, Iowa, northwest from Des Moines. The new pyrolyzer should be commissioned this summer and will be able to capture and sequester the equivalent of more than 1,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. This ladder made the team eligible for the XPRIZE award.
ISU scientists have developed a way to make the new pyrolyzer self-heating, improving its cost-effectiveness and environmental performance. This “auto-thermal pyrolyzer” works by pumping a small amount of air into the reactor, which causes partial oxidation and the release of heat from certain pyrolysis products.
“Pyrolysis requires energy to heat the biomass, but we are now able to self-heat the process,” Brown said.
About the $100 Million XPRIZE Carbon Elimination
XPRIZE, a non-profit organization that organizes competitions intended to stimulate technological progress for the benefit of humanity, seeks to reward innovative solutions to global challenges. XPRIZE has announced a $100 million grant, which it bills as the largest incentive prize in history, for effective carbon removal approaches, funded by Elon Musk and the Musk Foundation. The winning entrant must demonstrate solutions that can extract carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere or oceans at a scale of at least 1,000 tonnes per year. Entrants must also model their costs and demonstrate a possibility of extending their approach to gigatonnes of carbon storage in the future.
XPRIZE will award a grand prize of $50 million to the top entrant, along with other $30 million prizes to other teams, recognition that will likely take a variety of carbon removal approaches to avoid. a looming climate crisis.
“Even as we make heroic efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emission rates, we will still exceed the targets needed to avoid large climate impacts,” Brown said. “We need to look for solutions that actively remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. We think pyrolysis will be one of those solutions.