Lab works toward turning carbon into dollars

June 9, 2017
Carbon Economy

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers have teamed with universities and research institutions to develop solutions that transform waste carbon dioxide in the air into valuable products and services. (Download Image)

Lab works toward turning carbon into dollars

Anne M Stark, stark8@llnl.gov, 925-422-9799

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and collaborators are looking for a way to take carbon out of the air and make money doing it.

The Center for Carbon Removal, in partnership with Lawrence Livermore and several academic and research institutions, launched a new industrial innovation initiative this week with the goal of developing solutions that transform waste carbon dioxide in the air into valuable products and services. LLNL is the only national lab involved in the project.

"Solving a problem with a solution that doesn't exist" is how Julio Friedmann described it.

"We will be developing a roadmap aimed at the commercial sector," said Friedmann, LLNL's chief expert in energy technologies and systems. "This is a new economic opportunity. We've been at the table for years. We've formed this partnership to prepare for new commercial opportunities in the world in a new carbon economy."

In addition to Lawrence Livermore, universities involved in the initiative include Arizona State, Iowa State and Purdue, the latter two having strong agricultural, forestry and economics programs as well as leading engineering, materials science and environmental science programs. Lawrence Livermore has extensive expertise in alternative energy and new fuel sources.

Noah Deich, executive director of the Center for Carbon Removal, said that this initiative for a "New Carbon Economy" is urgently needed to "develop new businesses and reinvent the industries that powered the last industrial revolution -- like manufacturing, mining, agriculture and forestry -- to create a strong, healthy and resilient economy and environment for communities around the globe."

At the launch event, the assembled partners agreed to produce a roadmap that will outline the specific steps for translating relevant research into business and policy action. The roadmap will consider design principles for engaging multiple parts of the economy in capturing and concentrating carbon dioxide, ranging from biological approaches such as agriculture and forestry, to engineered approaches such as fuel, chemical and material manufacturing using carbon dioxide as a feedstock.

"There are maybe 100 people in the world who can talk about a carbon economy at the scale we're talking about," said Roger Aines, a senior scientist in the Atmospheric, Earth and Energy Division at Lawrence Livermore. "It's a brand new thing."

The idea for the initiative came from discussions between Arizona State University President Michael Crow and Deich on ways to rethink the climate challenge as a new economic opportunity. As Friedmann notes, "humans have put more than 2 trillion tons of CO2 into our air and oceans -- it's a pressing environmental challenge but also an enormous market opportunity with the right innovation and new thinking to make the most of it."