Far more and additional ETH Zurich researchers are getting the plunge into entrepreneurship. By launching spin-offs, they hope to change their lab conclusions into alternatives that can help stem the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide.
There is no shortage of proof for what the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Weather Improve (IPCC) describes as an “unequivocal warming of the weather system”. At no place in the past 800,000 years has the concentration of greenhouse gases in the ambiance been as substantial as it is currently. Since 1750, human action has induced 555 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to be released into the environment, raising the focus of carbon dioxide by 40 percent earlier mentioned pre-industrial degrees. Among 1880 and 2012, the ordinary temperature of the Earth’s surface rose by .85 levels Celsius. And with global snow and ice go over steadily shrinking, sea concentrations are increasing by an normal of 3 millimetres a year.
Experts are united in their perception that humanity need to do almost everything in its energy to sluggish the increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the ambiance, or even reverse it. There has been a visible increase in initiatives by ETH Zurich scientists to come up with prospective methods for local climate modify. And escalating numbers of them are also venturing past the walls of academia and striving to place weather-positive company thoughts into apply. Of the 242 spin-offs set up at ETH Zurich considering the fact that 2010, 34 are pursuing ways to overcome world-wide warming. In this posting, we acquire a closer seem at two illustrations: one from the power sector, the other from the construction market.
Carbon-neutral fuels designed from sunlight and air
Given that its founding in 2016, Synhelion has been operating on something that appears practically far too fantastic to be legitimate: a solar technology that can reverse the combustion process. The company’s mission is to make synthetic liquid fuels solely from daylight and air. Recognized as solar fuels, these release only as significantly CO2 in the course of combustion as was beforehand extracted from the air in order to create them, thus giving them the opportunity to make the transport industry practically carbon-neutral. Taken as a entire, air, sea and street transportation now release some 8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, generating it accountable for a quarter of anthropogenic CO2 emissions.
“We feel that liquid solar fuels have an important function to enjoy in the power transition,” states Gianluca Ambrosetti, CEO of Synhelion. He rightly factors out that no other electricity provider arrives close to matching the energy density and extended-term storage capabilities of liquid fuels. “What’s more, our solar fuels are a drop-in know-how, which suggests they do not call for any more infrastructure,” suggests Ambrosetti. “They can be processed in current refineries and distributed by using the network of filling stations that is currently in location.”
Remarkably concentrated solar radiation
Synhelion’s ingenious photo voltaic know-how is primarily based on three improvements originally produced by a group of scientists led by Aldo Steinfeld, Professor of Renewable Electrical power Carriers at ETH Zurich. Synhelion is now in search of to choose these improvements to the following stage. The initial is the photo voltaic receiver, a black chamber containing a greenhouse fuel. Photo voltaic radiation – concentrated quite a few thousand times by mirrors – shines by the quartz glass window that fronts this chamber and heats up the fuel to effectively about 1,000 levels Celsius. The second innovation is the ceramic foam know-how made use of in the thermochemical reactor. When heated to a sufficient temperature by the warm gasoline, this reactor is in a position to break up h2o and carbon dioxide to create syngas, a combination of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Typical techniques can then be used to change this syngas into liquid fuels these types of as methanol, gasoline and kerosene. The third innovation is a thermal power-storage system that can be employed to drive the reactor processes at night time and on overcast days.
A year and a 50 percent have passed given that Steinfeld and his group established up a mini-refinery, which makes close to 1 decilitre of methanol a day, on the roof of the Equipment Laboratory creating at ETH Zurich. “This pilot plant proves that we can make sustainable fuel from sunlight and air underneath actual-life disorders,” says Steinfeld.
The future aim, says Ambrosetti, is to scale up the processes, increase the performance and generate down fees. Ambrosetti acknowledges that people today may have uncertainties about scalability: “I assume it will be at minimum five more yrs just before we can start out making use of this technologies on an industrial scale.” That is why Synhelion is creating an interim resolution, identified as solar upgrading, to shorten the time to marketplace. “By incorporating methane to the mixture of drinking water vapour and carbon dioxide gas, the temperature required for thermochemical conversion into syngas can be diminished to as little as 800 levels Celsius,” suggests Ambrosetti. “This simplifies the whole course of action, which signifies it really should only get us two extra yrs to get to the point the place we can produce cost-effective photo voltaic fuels that launch 50 percent the net CO2 emissions of fossil fuels.”
Turning carbon dioxide into stone
Neustark – an ETH spin-off launched in 2019 – is pursuing a small business product dependent on an solely distinctive strategy. The business is developing a technology that turns carbon dioxide into stone by binding it with concrete mixture, therefore transforming it into substantial-grade limestone. The gains involve the two an upgraded aggregate and long-term carbon storage. “The design industry has so far made small progress in lowering emissions – and that is because so significantly investigation just receives submitted absent and under no circumstances utilized,” suggests Johannes Tiefenthaler, one 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 variance someplace.”
As aspect of his Master’s degree, Tiefenthaler was already investigating numerous approaches of converting carbon dioxide into limestone by reacting it with minerals. There are plenty of minerals on Earth to bind hundreds of billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide. Nonetheless, as Tiefenthaler clarifies, a lot of of them – this kind of as magnesium silicate – are not particularly reactive, so they ought to initial be heated to 700 degrees Celsius. In distinction, demolition rubble damaged into concrete aggregate has proven to be highly reactive because of to the big total surface area place of the various particles, every just a number of millimetres in dimension. As a result, the concrete aggregate forms quite steady chemical compounds with carbon dioxide, with out the want for any pre-treatment.
“What I adore about this answer is that it is all set to go now, not just in five or 10 several years,” says economist Valentin Gutknecht, Neustark’s second founder. The most important obstacle suitable now, he claims, is juggling all the various problems concerned. “As nicely as ensuring the houses of the concrete are exactly right, we also have to navigate the convoluted web of CO2 certification.”
Unfavorable CO2 emissions provide financial benefits
Even though Tiefenthaler functions at the Section of Mechanical and Approach Engineering to produce the next generation of technology for the mineralisation of carbon dioxide, Gutknecht and an at any time-growing team of employees are active concentrating on the operational aspect of the organization. As part of a venture funded by the Federal Business office for the Surroundings and the Swiss Local climate Foundation, Neustark has set up a pilot plant at the Kästli concrete is effective in Rubigen in the vicinity of Bern. Part of this pilot plant is a bright orange, skip-like container, in which liquid CO2 is additional to rubble from demolished concrete constructions. Following soaking in the tub of carbon dioxide for all around two hrs, the pieces of concrete rubble may perhaps even now appear the identical, but they weigh appreciably far more due to the fact the little pores in the tough surface area of the concrete have absorbed roughly 10 kilograms of CO2 for every cubic metre.
The carbon dioxide kinds a chemical bond with the calcium oxide in the concrete rubble. This provides limestone crystals, which considerably greatly enhance the traits of the concrete combination: by working with this recycled, upgraded mixture to make refreshing concrete, the very same strength and rigidity can be accomplished with a lot less cement. Concrete generation worldwide releases around 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the air each 12 months. This represents all over 7 p.c of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. By cutting the total of cement demanded in design, Neustark’s know-how can help cut down the industry’s carbon footprint by doing away with some of the emissions that would or else take place all through the generation of cement.
But Gutknecht and Tiefenthaler are speedy to point out yet another critical edge: many thanks to their ingenious strategy of capturing carbon dioxide from the air, soaking it into the pores of the concrete mixture and binding it completely into limestone, they can even reverse CO2 emissions. “There are very few specialized principles that deliver genuine unfavorable emissions,” says Tiefenthaler. Use of these ideas has so considerably been constrained because of to a absence of successful incentive schemes and enterprise models. “This is where by our system is one of a kind, because it reveals how binding carbon dioxide can generate included price. The enhanced features of the concrete aggregate demonstrate that damaging emissions do not have to elevate expenditures, but can truly deliver economic benefits,” states Gutknecht.