Research projects that are changing the way we view the Earth.
On the lab scale, we can demonstrate the moisture swing’s ability to increase the concentration of CO2 from the amount that is in ambient air, 400 parts per million (ppm), or 0.04%, to an enriched stream of up to five percent. This passive process uses water to release CO2, and relies on evaporation to regenerate the sorbent. Specific projects to demonstrate this phenomenon are listed below.
Coupling Desalination with Novel mCDR Membranes
This project explores modifying desalination membranes to facilitate CO2 removal from seawater while producing fresh drinking water in order to make carbon dioxide removal from oceans more cost-competitive and energy-efficient. The team will investigate two promising chemical groups that can be attached to membrane surface to separate CO2 from seawater. Through a comprehensive approach combining experiments, prototyping, modeling, and economic assessments, the project aims to identify the most cost-effective membrane types and surface modifications. This work lays the foundation for a scalable and cost-effective marine CO2 removal solution that capitalizes on existing desalination infrastructure, making it a promising complement to direct air capture approaches.
Molecular mechanisms of moisture-driven DAC (MissionDAC)
MissionDAC unites a diverse team from Northern Arizona University (NAU), ASU and University of Texas at Austin to engage in coordinated fundamental research of CO2 sorbent materials that release captured CO2 using moisture (water) rather than energy intensive heat or vacuum pressure. The research will use advanced computer studies ranging from atoms to materials to understand how structural and chemical changes within these materials drive CO2 capture and release. The models will be informed by advanced experimental techniques using X-rays, electron beams and gas flow systems that reveal how the materials are structurally organized and transport water, ions and carbon species. These investigations will generate a comprehensive knowledge base to enable increasing CO2 capture capacity, accelerate capture and release kinetics and manufacturable, durable materials. This research also could benefit other energy-related technologies like batteries, fuel cells, and water purification. This project is sponsored by the Department of Energy under award # DE-SC0023343.
ASU’s DAC polymer-enhanced cyanobacterial bioproductivity (AUDACity) project focuses on developing innovative sorbent materials that capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere when dry and deliver it when the material comes into contact with cultivation liquids, thereby enhancing the productivity of cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria are aquatic, photosynthesizing microorganisms that can be harvested for various valuable products, including food, fuels, fertilizers and biochar. The primary objectives are to engineer cyanobacterial strains for fuel production, creating efficient air-capture materials compatible with cyanobacteria and that resist degradation from the cyanobacteria themselves and nutrients and salts contained within the cultivation liquid, and scaling up CO2 delivery systems for outdoor demonstration in raceway ponds. This transformation of CO2 from a pollutant to a valuable resource adds significant value to the captured CO2. This project is supported by the Department of Energy under award # DE-EE0009274.
The Mechanical Tree™ is a groundbreaking carbon dioxide (CO2) direct air capture (DAC) technology and a pioneering advancement to address climate change. Th first Mechanical Tree ™ in the world was installed by Carbon Collect at ASU, which will enable outdoor, pilot-scale DAC research at ASU CNCE. Natural air flow from wind brings air in contact with specialized materials (sorbents) that remove CO2 without the need for fans or blowers. This passive capture makes the MechanicalTree™ unique by minimizing energy consumption. Once the material has become saturated with CO2, the tree collapses into its “trunk” (right side of figure) where the collected CO2 is removed as concentrated gas for use or permanent storage. Future MechanicalTree™ “farms” will comprise thousands of trees to provide a scalable solution to global climate change mitigation.
Mineralizing CO2 in Arizona cinder cones
Mineralization is a safe and permanent disposal of CO2. It involves using minerals, such as olivine and serpentine, which contain calcium or magnesium that are reactive toward CO2, and converting them into carbonates. This project is a collaboration between the Arizona Geological Society at the University of Arizona, ASU and Northern Arizona University to evaluate the potential of disposing of CO2 safely within cinder cones (scoria) in Arizona. Researchers will collect samples at several scoria sites, measure reactivity with CO2 and estimate the potential capacity for storing CO2 in Arizona. The team will also evaluate processes that integrate direct air capture (DAC) of CO2 located onsite with the scoria for mineralization and disposal, and engage communities and stakeholders regarding jobs, and business opportunities that could benefit communities nearby the scoria sites. This project is supported by the Department of Energy under award # DE-FE0032252.
Fundamental mechanisms of self-heating CO2 capture materials
This project is investigating fundamental mechanisms of novel sorbent materials that integrate both moisture and thermal swing mechanisms that could increase their capacity for capturing CO2 and reduce energy requirements. The project also is collaborating with Indigenous communities to consider the priorities, values, risks, and burdens of such an emerging technology while also transitioning away from fossil fuels and exploring secondary benefits such as purified water and renewable fuels derived from technology. This project is sponsored by the National Science Foundation under award # 2219247.
Self-heating CO2 capture system development (SRP)
This project is sponsored by SRP (Salt River Project), which is a significant utility company in Arizona with a strong commitment to sustainability, particularly in reducing emissions. ASU CNCE has a long-standing partnership with SRP, which helped develop novel technologies that capture CO2 directly from passive wind flows. This project will design a system that utilizes the heat generated as water is absorbed onto moisture-driven CO2 sorbent materials that further enhances the CO2 release process and can be used to generate heat onsite for other purposes (e.g., water purification, energy production). This approach will allow us to design a comprehensive direct air capture (DAC) system that accounts for local environmental conditions and provide SRP with a powerful tool to combat climate change while advancing clean technology.
Advancing the Certification of Carbon Removal
Industries seeking to offset emissions can acquire ‘carbon credits.’ However, the existing carbon markets are plagued by issues like unverifiable claims, fraud, greenwashing, and conflicts of interest, making it essential to establish comprehensive rules for effective certification. The Carbon Removal Certification Project addresses this critical need by focusing on certification processes, potential outcomes, and requirements, with a goal to standardize carbon markets and the removal or sequestration of CO2. The project delves into critical aspects, including accounting methods, storage duration, re-release risk, and safeguards, while also examining the potential for unintentional emissions during the carbon removal process. The growing carbon offset market, with approximately 80% of the world’s emissions falling under carbon neutrality plans that rely on credits, highlights the urgency of this initiative to ensure a transparent and impactful carbon market.
Designing carbon trees farms
SAPDAC (Strategic Approach for Passive Direct Air Capture) is designing three carbon farms across three distinct climates (hot dry, hot humid and cool dry) in the US, each utilizing innovative ‘Carbon Trees’ systems, similar to the Pilot plant located at ASU. The farms will capture, separate, and either store or convert 1,000 metric tons of CO2 daily at each site. This initiative represents a crucial step toward the commercialization of a technology that has the potential to revolutionize our carbon balance on a global scale. With the ability to help meet the world’s carbon budget, facilitate the essential drawdown for limiting global warming to 1.5℃, and provide the carbon needed for synthetic fuels and chemicals, SAPDAC is at the forefront of impactful climate solutions. This project is supported U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management, under Award Number DE-FOA-0002402.
Greenhouse in a glovebox
By feeding a plant water and artificial sunlight in an enclosed environment, we can measure the plant’s photosynthesis of CO2 and maintain a higher moisture content. Continuously adding the sorbent material into the glove box allows us to demonstrate the ability to maintain CO2 -enriched air of up to 1,000 ppm.
Sorbent Characterization, Scaling, and Modeling
The CNCE develops and utilizes diverse sorbent materials for capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) directly from the atmosphere and has a comprehensive suite of custom and commercial test equipment for studying fundamentals performance characteristics from the milligram to kilogram scale, using thermal, vacuum, moisture or hybrid swings, including open and close loop setups and a 561 L wind tunnel. Ongoing research aims to enhance standard sorbent characterization, create representative models, and optimize sorbent designs, with insights guiding scalable manufacturing and improving economic feasibility.
CACTUS: CO2 Aerogel Capture Towards Utilization and Sequestration
XEROX PARC will develop novel aerogel CO2 capture materials that will be tested at ASU to assess the CO2 capture performance, including the kinetics and capacity of CO2 uptake as well as appropriate regeneration conditions to prepare the sorbent for capturing CO2 again. The ASU team will also analyze global information systems data to determine appropriate deployment locations for the DAC technology based on availability of water and electricity and the regional climate. This project is sponsored by the Department of Energy under award # DE-AR0001583.
Enhancing CO2 capture in oceans
This project focuses on enhancing CO2 uptake and sequestration in the ocean through methods like phytoplankton fertilization, a type of marine carbon dioxide removal (mCDR). This project is developing detailed models of zooplankton-mediated carbon fluxes in oceans. Additionally, the project seeks to align the models with carbon market systems by addressing carbon credit certification criteria and developing carbon accounting protocols for phytoplankton fertilization mCDR, ultimately advancing carbon accounting and data modeling for more accurate carbon credit assessment. This project is funded by the Department of Energy under the award: DE-AR0002989.
The primary goal of this project is to drive the rapid adoption of Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS) in the Four Corners region, specifically focusing on New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado. This regional initiative involves a collaboration between academic institutions, national laboratories, geological surveys, and CO2 source emitters. The project’s objectives include addressing technical challenges related to CCUS deployment, improving data collection and analysis for safe CO2 injection, assessing infrastructure needs, facilitating technology transfer, and engaging in community outreach. Additionally, the project aims to educate the public and diverse stakeholders about the benefits of integrated CCUS projects, ultimately expediting their implementation.
Making Methanol from DAC CO2
The MIDACE (Methanol from Direct Air Capture and High-Temperature Electrolysis) project aspires to emulate King Midas’s legendary ability, but with an environmentally conscious twist. Over a 12-month Phase I period, the project aims to evaluate an innovative approach to methanol production that transcends traditional fossil-based methods. The project seeks to optimize economic, environmental, and social outcomes by coordinating commercial DAC and high-temperature electrolysis technologies and employing well-established TEA (Techno-Economic Analysis) and LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) techniques. This novel design integrates passive sorbent bed direct air capture technology with high-temperature electrolysis and advanced methanol synthesis catalysts, with a focus on minimizing balance-of-plant requirements, maximizing carbon utilization, and minimizing energy consumption. This project is funded by the Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management under award: DE-FE0032403.
The Air2Fuel project will conceptually design a system that integrates best-in-class technologies from ASU (direct air capture), National Renewable Energy Laboratories (carbon-free hydrogen; H2), and Air Company (CO2 to methanol), culminating in an integrated Air2Fuel system. The Air2Fuel project will develop two distinct designs: a mobile lab-scale system and a commercial facility capable of producing over 1000 tones of carbon neutral methanol per year with a target price of $4.80 per gasoline gallon equivalent. Air2Fuel also prioritizes societal considerations, including fostering Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA), community engagement, environmental justice assessments, and workforce development, ultimately contributing to equitable ownership models and sustainable job creation in the energy transition landscape. This project is funded by the Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management under award: DE-FE0032405.
Southwest Regional Direct Air Capture Hub
This project aims to establish a Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage testbed for the Southwest region of the United States. We aim to create a Hub that will feature two core Direct Air Capture technologies—one from Carbon Collect and the other from Carbon Capture—along with a testbed for earlier-stage technologies. Arizona State University will provide leadership, expertise, and coordination, with a focus on supporting underrepresented communities through the federal Justice 40 initiative. The Hub will encompass sequestration sites at the St. Johns Dome in east-central Arizona (Proton Green), the Paradox Basin in southeastern Utah (University of Utah), and the San Juan Basin in northwestern New Mexico (New Mexico Tech & Tallgrass Energy). Each site will have dedicated leads for sequestration, site development, and Justice 40 to ensure local input and context are considered in site-specific decisions.