Heriot-Watt awarded $2M to lead ground-breaking research in fight against climate change

Published:
Garcia funding
One in a trillion Each sphere represents a possible material to capture CO2 from air (figure by Mohamad Moosavi).

Heriot-Watt University has received $2M funding from the “Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment” to find materials that can remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air and can drastically reduce the energy intensity and cost of the Direct Air Capture (DAC) process, so that it can scale rapidly and contribute to fighting climate change.

The team at Heriot-Watt, led by Prof Susana Garcia, will align with RMI's climate tech accelerator programme, Third Derivative, for “Unlocking the scalable potential of sorbent-based Direct Air Capture (DAC) technologies” in the USorb-DAC project. Funded by the Jeremy and Hannelore Grantham Environmental Trust, Third Derivative's “First Gigaton Captured” initiative is convening and orchestrating an ecosystem of the world's most innovative start-ups, investors, corporations, and technology, policy, and market experts to rapidly deploy, scale, and commercialise viable carbon dioxide removal (CDR) solutions — and slash CDR's cost to $100 per ton of CO2 captured.

By coupling basic science with engineering and environmental aspects, the project's team will develop an in-depth understanding of materials structure-property-performance relationships across different time scales and under relevant and realistic DAC operation conditions.  

To achieve this goal, USorb-DAC unites the efforts of world-leading research teams from Heriot-Watt University, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zurich in Switzerland, University of California Berkeley in the USA, and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in France.

Project Coordinator and Professor in Chemical and Process Engineering and Associate Director of Carbon Capture and Storage at the Research Centre for Carbon Solutions (RCCS) at Heriot-Watt, Susana Garcia, said:

“Reducing the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is the biggest challenge of our generation. I am so proud that with USorb-DAC Heriot-Watt University is leading this large international effort to help achieve the UK net zero targets by 2050, and we have assembled a team of brilliant researchers to tackle this.”

The USorb-DAC team will develop a technology platform to rapidly identify optimum processes and materials that can dramatically drive down the cost of DAC (to $100/tCO2 or lower) through synergistic material and process development. The platform integrates process design with materials and big-data science to identify the optimal material and process combination for a DAC process. This is combined with a techno-economic and life-cycle analysis to determine the effective carbon price needed for the technology to reach a break-even point and be carbon negative.

“Universities and pharmaceutical companies have long used computer modelling of molecular binding for drug discovery. This project's aims are much higher. The computer models are not only predicting the binding of CO2 with novel materials but also assess the performance in a DAC process. This assessment involves a complete techno-economics and lifecycle analysis. I'm very excited to see what the researchers come up with and appreciate the Grantham Foundation's vision in funding this project” said Cyril Yee, Chief Innovation Officer at Third Derivative.

Susana Garcia adds: “The power of our platform is incredible. We can even evaluate the performance of a material before it is synthesised. This allows chemists to focus on the most promising materials. The platform will provide a set of materials that yield energy-efficient, environmentally friendly, and economical bespoke engineered solutions for DAC processes, and it will ultimately fast-track the route to market for advanced DAC technologies”

Professor Stephen McLaughlin, Heriot-Watt's Deputy Principal Research and Impact added: “Heriot-Watt rightly prides itself as a university leading research in finding solutions to achieving net zero. This award will enable research to find solutions to reducing CO2 in the atmosphere, which is one the urgent major challenges facing humanity. I look forward to future updates on the successful outcomes I am sure will arise.”

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Susan Kerr