Green Forest

Direct air capture must be a part of our climate arsenal

23 November 2022

Advancing Australia’s capability to tackle climate change

Reaching net-zero can only be achieved by removing historical emissions, according to Professor Deanna D’Alessandro, who is working with industry partners to advance direct air capture technology.
Professor Deanna D'Alessandro

Professor Deanna D’Alessandro is a researcher in the University of Sydney’s School of Chemistry and an ARC Future Fellow

Around the world, governments and industry are gearing up efforts to slash emissions, marking the biggest transfer of energy supply since the industrial revolution. The Albanese Government recently pledged to preserve 30 percent of Australia’s land mass for conservation. 

This is a move in the right direction. However, even if the world achieved net-zero tomorrow and began restoring the globe’s natural carbon conversion systems there is still the issue of historical emissions which without intervention cannot be remediated quickly enough to mitigate the progression of global warming.

This is the legacy left from the industrial revolution and the advent of wide scale fossil fuel use which have pumped an estimated 1.5 trillion tonnes of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, large-scale deployment of carbon dioxide removal is essential to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Efforts to not only achieve net-zero but also to remove historical emissions can be augmented with direct air capture (DAC) technology, a process which captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. 

Our team at the University of Sydney in partnership with industry leaders on this project, Southern Green Gas (SGG) and AspiraDAC are supercharging direct air capture technology’s potential to address the issue of historical emissions.

SGG and AspiraDAC are driving the creation of a new negative emissions industry in Australia, through the world’s first solar-powered DAC project that buries captured carbon in underground permanent storage – a process managed by AspiraDAC.

Australia is uniquely positioned to become a global superpower in renewable energy solutions to turn back the dial on climate change. Our vast areas of non-arable land with high solar intensity and above excellent geo-sequestration sites provide a platform for a billion-dollar new export industry.

A prototype of SGG’s DAC module is being developed and funding is being secured to support larger scale manufacture. These modules are earmarked for a demonstration project that will capture 310 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere per year.   The nanomaterials at the heart of our process have been developed by our team with support from the University’s Net Zero Initiative. Recently, our research was also recognised by the Musk Foundation’s Student Team XPRIZE in Carbon Removals in 2021.

SGG’s DAC technology is now the first to market in Australia and is to be incorporated into the world’s first solar-powered DAC project being developed by AspiraDAC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Corporate Carbon Group.  This project has sold its first credits to Frontier which is making Carbon Removal advance purchases backed by Stripe, Shopify, Meta, Google and McKinsey.

The team’s success is testament to both our scientific expertise and industry partners’ acumen – however it is clear too that there is significant market need – and DAC is ripe for expansion.

DAC is not a universal salve and achieving net-zero is not a one-stop shop: many technologies need to come together to slash emissions, and DAC can be an invaluable strength to Australia’s efforts to do so.

Professor Deanna D’Alessandro is a researcher in the University of Sydney’s School of Chemistry and an ARC Future Fellow. Her work forms a key part of the University's Net-Zero-Initiative. 

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