Startup Creates Lego-Like Brick That Can Store Air Pollution for Centuries


A business supported by Bill Gates named Graphyte is bringing the pipe dream of carbon capture one step closer to reality by burying bricks made of plant material.

The Washington Post described Graphyte's "deceptively simple" process for sequestering blocks of rice hulls and wood chips as "a game-changer" for the sector, which has been hindered by the high cost of alternative approaches.

"The approach, the company claims, could store a ton of CO2 for around $100 a ton, a number long considered a milestone for affordably removing carbon dioxide from the air," according to the publication.

According to the Post, the cost of direct air collection systems varies between $600 and $1,200 per ton in the US and Iceland.

Relying on renewable energy and electric power is tough for energy-intensive businesses like construction (which includes cement-making, a major global polluter) and aviation (which is developing sustainable fuels), according to the Post.

"We've bet the future of our planet on our ability to remove CO2 from the air," Chris Rivest, who is a partner at Gates' Breakthrough Energy Ventures, told the Post. "Pretty much every [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] scenario that has a livable planet involves us pulling like 5 to 10 gigatons of CO2 out of the air by mid- to late-century."

Thus, Graphyte's goal is to eliminate the natural process of plant decay, which releases atmospheric carbon back into the environment. To achieve this, they collect plant waste from farmers and lumber firms, compress, dry, and wrap it "into Lego-like bricks," then bury it 10 feet underground. The Post said that "with the right monitoring," the shoebox-sized bricks can stay there for a millennium.

The company, which claims to be the largest carbon removal factory in the world, inaugurated its first location in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, in April in collaboration with nearby paper mills. It intends to become the world's largest carbon removal company by burying 50,000 tons of carbon dioxide next year.

According to The Post, Graphyte's straightforward strategy might work if it can find plant waste and build facilities of a similar nature around the country.

Graphyte science adviser Daniel Sanchez told the Post, "People that are academics probably thought about this before and were like, 'That's way too simple." "'No one's ever going to do that.'"


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