Every day, the effects of climate change become more real. The news is filled with stories about flooding, drought and more extreme weather events.

One of the leading causes of this climate change are the increasing levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. This is caused by industrial and domestic pollution and burning fossil fuels.

However, there are some innovative start ups who are trying to design devices that can capture this carbon dioxide from our atmosphere and safely store it.

Read more: Meet the Irish start up that's changing the nutrition industry by creating personalised supplements

Waterford-based NEG8 Carbon is one such company. The company started out as research project in Trinity College Dublin and UCD, but soon investors came on board and it pivoted to a full-scale business.

The Neg8 Carbon team
The Neg8 Carbon team

Neg8 Carbon's devices capture carbon dioxide from the air and permanently store it in the ground through a process known as geological mineralisation, according to Dr Adrian Costigan, Chief Commercial Officer. "It captures CO2 from the air, which is mixed with a water solution, that is then pumped underground into either basalt rock or peridotite rock.

"That solution reacts with the rock and turns into an inner solid, it calcinates and becomes part of the rock. It's a way of permanently removing the CO2 from the atmosphere. There's more than enough of these types of rock around the globe to store all of the CO2 we need captured to meet our climate targets."

The system looks like a big box with a fan on one end, which draws in large quantities of air from the atmosphere. "The air flows over absorbent material, the CO2 binds with this material, then we apply both vacuum and heat which releases the CO2, which is then captured. The CO2 depleted air is then released from the other side of the machine."

The system also captures large quantities pure water in humid conditions. "From one tonne of CO2 we can get 1.5 to 2.5 tonnes of pure water, that is a valuable resource. It can be used by industry or made potable [for drinking water]."

A mock up of Neg8 Carbon's carbon capture technology
A mock up of Neg8 Carbon's carbon capture technology

The base components of the system, such as the fan and pumps, run off renewable electricity. The machine needs to be heated to 85 degrees to work, and will utilise geothermal energy, heat pumps, or waste heat from industry to do this.

The systems emit a low hum which can be heard when people stand right beside them, but Adrian says they will likely placed in isolated locations away from people. As for size, if you filled Dublin Airport with the units, they would capture all of the CO2 Ireland produces each year. The units themselves are in 40 foot containers and stack three high.

The team have now designed and built a 1.2 tonne working prototype down in their research and development centre in the IDA Business Park in Waterford. "That's been validated now so it's full steam ahead to scale up and build more. A large engineering firm have come on board to help us mass manufacture the technology."

The first unit should be ready by quarter three of 2024, which will be tested in Ireland. A wider pilot project will then take place in either Iceland, Canada or Oman, as these areas have an abundance of basalt and peridotite rock. "We are a capture company so we will partner with other companies on the permanent storage part, currently we are in talks with some companies in these countries."

Adrian adds that the world still has to work to decarbonise industry, and this work should continue. "We want our technology to be aimed at the last 10% of industry who cannot decarbonise, and the historic emissions that are still in the atmosphere. This isn't a silver bullet."

After the pilots are finished, Adrian is hopeful they will be able to capture millions of tonnes of CO2. "It's an ambitious journey and one we are just at the start of. We are hoping it will eventually get to the stage where it becomes affordable and available to individuals, like how solar panels are on houses now."

To learn more, visit neg8carbon.com.

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