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The R&D Roundup: January 2021

OpenAir believes that in order to achieve large-scale drawdown, it is crucial to develop small-scale but pervasive methods to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. OpenAir Research & Development is a...


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OpenAir believes that in order to achieve large-scale drawdown, it is crucial to develop small-scale but pervasive methods to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. OpenAir Research & Development is a community of people interested in furthering this initiative, organized into various sub-missions that explore avenues of interest. We are engineers, scientists, designers, technologists, and hardware hackers. We are teachers and students of STEM, the arts, and business. We are experts and tinkerers, ranging from subject matter experts to the casual and curious.

The first hardware project OpenAir R&D undertook is Violet, a direct air capture device with the goal of removing 1kg of atmospheric CO2 per day. Violet makes use of moisture swing sorbents, which are chemicals that absorb (bond and capture) CO2 while dry, and desorb (release the captured CO2) when wet.

Our recent focus has been on developing a Sorbent Tester to support the ongoing development and refinement of Violet. Our investigation into and understanding of the existing technology in this space, in terms of commercial and public availability, inspired us to tackle the problem of cost-effective construction, iteration, and testing. To that end, we’re developing a simple, inexpensive, and rigorous testing tool that will allow OpenAir and our broader community to survey and study the technology at the heart of the project – the moisture swing sorbent. 

OpenAir has also developed a second project, Cyan, which is a smaller direct air capture device that currently achieves 2 grams of CO2 capture per day for every 10 grams of input material. It has a total build/materials cost of under $100 and uses 1.5 watts of electricity. Though small, these units are at a price point that will allow quick iteration and improvement; the minimum functional unit is actually under $20. Unlike Violet, Cyan makes use of alkali sorbents as inputs. We hope to derive these inputs from a low-carbon to carbon-neutral source, like the vast deposits of coal fly ash already available from past decades of power plant combustion. This would make Cyan a negative emissions unit, storing CO2 in solid form as calcium carbonate.

As a volunteer organization, we call upon any passionate advocates for climate action to get involved – so we’re documenting and sharing our progress. We’re creating R&D projects that are not only highly effective at advancing Direct Air Carbon Capture (DACC), but also affordable, accessible, and easy to reproduce. The key to advancing this planet-saving technology is to involve as many people as possible, and all our efforts are focused on encouraging that goal. Within the next few months, we’ll be releasing plans for building Sorbent Testers and Cyan units, with Violet shortly to follow thereafter.

Though both the individual Cyan and Violet units are small, collectively they will contribute to significant removal of atmospheric CO2 and spur innovation of uses of captured CO2. At 1 kg/day, 1000 Violet units would remove a metric ton of CO2 every day. And the more of these units that are in use, the better and more efficient they’ll become.

We encourage anyone and everyone who’s interested to try their hand at building their own Cyan machine – detailed instructions can be found here.

We’re here to help – support and troubleshooting questions can be directed to the #cyan channel in our Discord.

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OpenAir Team

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