World’s first commercial-scale air scrubbing plant launched in Switzerland

The world’s first commercial plant to capture atmospheric CO₂, which simultaneously boosts air quality and captures the gas for resale, has been launched in Switzerland

The direct air capture (DAC) plant, located near Zurich, filters 900 tonnes of CO₂ annually from the atmosphere to supply to a local greenhouse, where it will be used to grow vegetables, replacing fossil industrial CO₂.

The first of its kind, the air-scrubbing technology used in the plant has been deemed crucial to the Paris Agreement’s target of limiting global temperature rises to 2°C.

The plant, developed by Climeworks, makes use of patented technology to filter CO₂ from ambient air. The filter captures atmospheric carbon using mainly low-grade heat as an energy source, with this first DAC system installed on the roof of a waste recovery factory, where it can use the factory’s waste heat as power.

As the first commercial-scale air scrubber to begin operations, the plant could be the first example of a whole new approach to combating climate change.

“Highly scalable negative emission technologies are crucial if we are to stay below the two-degree target of the international community,” said Christoph Gebald, co-founder and managing director of Climeworks. “The DAC-technology provides distinct advantages to achieve this aim and is perfectly suitable to be combined with underground storage.

“We’re working hard to reach the goal of filtering one per cent of global CO₂ emissions by 2025. To achieve this, we estimate around 250,000 DAC-plants like the one in Hinwil are necessary.”

The capture process sees CO₂ chemically deposited on the surface of the filter which, once saturated, then isolates CO₂ at a temperature of about 100°C. The captured gas can then be sold onto markets such as the energy sector, commercial agriculture, the automotive industry and food and beverage industries.

At present, the important customer is the aforementioned greenhouse, with Climeworks providing a continuous supply of CO₂ to assist with growing vegetables. By securing this agreement, Climeworks have made their operation the first direct air capture plant with a commercial customer.

Operating as a three-year demonstration project in co-operation with the partners Gebrüder Meier (operators of the greenhouse) and KEZO (operators of the factory), it is hoped that this will serve as the first step to far broader commercialisation.

The newly installed air scrubber. Images courtesy of Climeworks / Julia Dunlop

With such a strong case for commercialisation, Climeworks has set its sights on expansion. Compared to other carbon capture technologies, the Climeworks DAC’s modular design can be employed almost anywhere.

The company is planning to use this initial success to launch additional pilot projects in other markets, and plans to test the technology’s potential in combination with underground storage.

“With the energy and economic data from the plant we can make reliable calculations for other, larger projects and draw on the practical experience we have gained,” said Jan Wurzbacher, Climeworks co-founder and managing director.

If the company continues to improve on its success, and expands its operational capability, it is possible that such technology could play a lead role in combating. In particular, with Climeworks’ easy deployment, we could soon see direct air capture broadly utilised, from factory to city.

Steve “Woz” Wozniak to advise hologram emoji company that he calls “groundbreaking”

Apple’s co-founder Steve “Woz” Wozniak has found himself a new gig; Woz has joined the hologram emoji company, Mojiit, as an adviser.

In his role as advisor to Mojiit, the legendary entrepreneur and engineer will help assemble a world-class engineering team in addition to bringing investors and partnerships to the newly launched startup. Wozniak will also serve as mentor to Mojiit founder, Jeremy Greene.

“I’m thrilled to join Mojiit as an advisor,” said Wozniak. “Jeremy is a natural leader, the company is groundbreaking, it’s going to change the ecommerce space, and it’s a lot of fun.”

Created in 2017, Mojiit is the latest startup technology venture from Greene. The company’s tech essentially enables users to project and share 3D hologram emojis via smartphones.

The platform turns users into emojis by scanning their face, which can then be sent to loved ones and friends. Once a Mojiit message is received, it will map the area where it is received and place the Mojiit hologram there in real time, so it works in a similar way to Pokemon Go.

“Steve is one of the best and brilliant engineers in the entire world. But outside of that, he’s a wonderful man,” said Greene. “There isn’t anyone I’d want to be in business with more than this guy. He’s a legend. Who better to learn from than the guy who created the computer?”

Image courtesy of Nichollas Harrison. Featured image courtesy of Mojiit

In addition to consumer use, businesses of all kinds can tap into hologram emojis with Mojiit’s technology.

Mojiit investors already  include NFL alum Ed Reed, and the company was able to raise a total of $1 million in its seed round of funding.

Alongside the appointment of Woz, Entourage and Ballers producer Rob Weiss recently joined the company as a creative director.

“It’s exciting to expand beyond television and film to digital platforms,” said Weiss. “Hologram technology brings incredible opportunity to entertainment and media. I’m thrilled to be leading creative at Mojiit.”

Nanoengineers send antibiotic-delivering micromotors into the body to treat cancer-causing infection

Nanoengineers have demonstrated for the first time how “micromotors” that measure half the width of a human hair can be used to transport antibiotics through the body.

Nanoengineers at the University of California San Diego tested the micromotors in mice with Helicobacter pylori infections, which can also be found in about two-thirds of the world’s population and while many people will never notice any signs of its presence it can cause peptic ulcers and stomach cancer.

The mice received the micromotors – packed with a clinical dose of the antibiotic clarithromycin – orally once a day for five consecutive days.

Afterwards, nanoengineers evaluated the bacterial count in each mouse stomach and found that treatment with the micromotors was slightly more effective than when the same dose of antibiotic was given in combination with proton pump inhibitors, which also suppress gastric acid production.

Micromotors administered to the mice swam rapidly throughout the stomach while neutralising gastric acid, which can be destructive to orally administered drugs such as antibiotics and protein-based pharmaceuticals.

Because gastric acid is so destructive to traditional antibiotics drugs used to treat bacterial infections, ulcers and other diseases in the stomach are normally taken with additional substances, called proton pump inhibitors.

But when taken over longer periods or in high doses, proton pump inhibitors can cause adverse side effects including headaches, diarrhea and fatigue. In more serious cases, they can cause anxiety or depression.

The micromotors, however, have a built-in mechanism that neutralises gastric acid and effectively deliver their drug payloads in the stomach without requiring the use of proton pump inhibitors.

“It’s a one-step treatment with these micromotors, combining acid neutralisation with therapeutic action,” said Berta Esteban-Fernández de Ávila, a postdoctoral scholar in Wang’s research group at UC San Diego and a co-first author of the paper.

The nanoengineers say that while the present results are promising, this work is still at an early stage.

To test their work, the team is planning future studies to into the therapeutic performance of the micromotors in animals and humans, and will compare it with other standard therapies used to combat stomach diseases.

UC San Diego nanoengineers also plan to test different drug combinations with the micromotors to treat multiple diseases in the stomach or in different sections of the gastrointestinal tract.

Overall, the researchers say that this work opens the door to the use of synthetic motors as active delivery platforms in the treatment of diseases.

Image and video courtesy of the Laboratory for Nanobioelectronics at UC San Diego.