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Startup Carbyon removes CO2 from the atmosphere, with a little help from TMC

The Eindhoven based startup Carbyon has developed a groundbreaking solution to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Employeneur Herbert Lifka from TMC’s Nanotechnology business cell was asked to help the fledgling sustainable company take the next step.

‘We have to stop pumping up fossil fuels and start implementing a completely circular energy system,’ CEO Hans de Neve from Carbyon says. An ambitious goal, De Neve admits, but he feels it could be achieved in the next ten to fifteen years. One of the main challenges is recapturing CO2 from the atmosphere in a cost effective way. Carbyon claims to have found the solution.

The startup’s innovative technology is based on a wafer-thin membrane made of silicon and copper foil to which a sorbent - a chemical that binds CO2 molecules - is attached. By blowing air through the membrane the CO2 from the air sticks to the sorbent. The sorbent is then heated up, releasing the carbon dioxide, which can be stored underground or reused as renewable fuel.

While CO2-extraction from the air already exists, current methods are based on blowing air under high pressure through a sorbent attached to coarse granules. High pressured air is expensive, which substantially drives up the cost. Because Carbyon uses a membrane instead of granules, the air pressure can stay low. De Neve: ‘It makes us about ten times cheaper than the current methods.’

Sustainable future

Employeneur Herbert Lifka (TMC Nanotechnology) has a lot of experience with the type of thin film technology Carbyon uses. When a gap opened up between two of his other projects, he availed himself of the opportunity to offer Carbyon his services. ‘I really want to contribute to a sustainable future, and for that you need a lot of new technology,’ Herbert says. ‘TMC also wants to support sustainable applications, and this project nicely fitted that goal.’

As a nanotechnology engineer Herbert analysed Carbyon’s membrane. He discovered the structure of the membrane was much coarser than the company originally thought, which greatly impacted the pattern of air filtering through. Herbert also advised them about improving their measuring equipment. ‘Now Carbyon can see more accurately how much CO2 is actually absorbed,’ he says.

‘We really need people like Herbert,’ says CEO Hans de Neve, who was very pleased with his contribution. ‘Because of his expertise in thin film, Herbert sees things we don’t notice. We’re now working on a new simulation model based on his insights.’

A million square feet of rainforest

Carbyon is now working hard to design a machine that can put their membrane to work. Since the membrane is composed of countless holes and pores the CO2 can cling to, its total absorbing surface is much bigger than it looks. ‘The membrane is like a sponge,’ De Neve explains. ‘A sponge has a porous structure with lots of tiny surfaces on the inside that absorb water. If you would add up all those surfaces, you end up with hundreds of square feet. We’re basically doing the same thing, only much thinner and finer.’

De Neve says that one square foot of membrane in the machine contains three thousand square feet of internal porous surface to capture CO2 from the atmosphere. He goes on to explain that the capacity of a Carbyon machine to absorb carbondioxide is equivalent to a million square feet of rainforest.

TMC’s support

De Neve says he’s happy with TMC’s support. ‘TMC was very cooperative and you can see they really have long term vision. I think the fact that we are a sustainable company has also peaked their interest. It was a very positive experience.’

Herbert is glad the project was a success. ‘It gives me a sense of satisfaction to help out a company like Carbyon. I’m happy I was able to make a substantial contribution.’

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