JUN 06, 2023 10:00 AM PDT

Knoxville-Based Startup Granted License for CO2 Capture Technology

Direct air capture (DAC) technology, also known as carbon capture, is a technology designed to remove carbon dioxide directly from the air with the goal of mitigating the effects of climate change. This is something that the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has been tackling for some time. Now, a license to further develop this technology, specifically a sustainable chemistry designed for capturing carbon from the air, has been licensed to a Knoxville-based startup company, Holocene.

“ORNL is tackling climate change by developing numerous technologies that reduce or eliminate emissions,” said Dr. Susan Hubbard, who is the deputy for science and technology at ORNL. “But with billions of tons of carbon dioxide already in the air, we must capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to slow and reverse the effects of climate change.”

This sustainable chemistry was invented by Dr. Radu Custelcean, who is a scientist in the Chemical Sciences Division at ORNL, and the process uses a water-based solution containing Bis-iminoguanidine (BIGs), which are receptors discovered at ORNL and are used to consume carbon dioxide. As the carbon dioxide is consumed, the BIGs receptors are transformed into an insoluble crystalline salt, which is separated from the water-based solution with ease.

As it turns out, Dr. Custelcean and his team uncovered this new chemistry by accident while researching fundamental crystallization. This resulted in the Bis-Iminoguanidine Negative Emission Technology (BIG-NET) earning an R&D 100 Award in 2021.

“Doing basic research under DOE’s Basic Energy Sciences program, I have the flexibility to change direction if I find something interesting,” Custelcean said. “The basic research allows us to better understand all the elementary reactions and processes involved. But through licensing, we get to see a progression with our partners in the development of the technology. We’re involved in the full spectrum of research.”

Dr. Radu Custelcean, a scientist in the Chemical Sciences Division at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, invented a sustainable chemistry designed to capture carbon dioxide from the air, which was recently licensed to Knoxville-based startup, Holocene.

The next steps for this research include ORNL and Holocene conducting what’s known as bench-scale testing, meaning the new technology will be tested on small scales within a laboratory setting, to further develop the chemistry with the long-term hopes of using it at commercial-sized scales.

What new discoveries will researchers make about carbon capture, and will this sustainable chemistry help mitigate the effects of climate change in the coming years and decades? Only time will tell, and this is why we science!

Sources: International Energy Agency, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, HoloceneOak Ridge National Laboratory (1), Oak Ridge National Laboratory (2)

As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Laurence Tognetti is a six-year USAF Veteran who earned both a BSc and MSc from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Laurence is extremely passionate about outer space and science communication, and is the author of “Outer Solar System Moons: Your Personal 3D Journey”.
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