Researchers win grants to remove carbon from air, manufacturing

Two Cornell researchers have each won grants to develop carbon removal technologies that aim to position New York as a global hub for carbon removal and clean industrial technology and innovation.

Greeshma Gadikota, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell Engineering and a Cornell Atkinson Senior Faculty Fellow, seeks to recycle some of the materials generated during steel and aluminum manufacturing to recover critical metals while capturing and storing carbon dioxide. And Phillip Milner, assistant professor of chemistry and chemical biology in the College of Arts and Sciences and a Cornell Atkinson Faculty Fellow, is identifying new chemical pathways for direct-air capture of carbon dioxide that could resolve some of the fundamental limitations of current technologies.

The $455,000 in funding to support the two projects is from the Carbontech Development Initiative (CDI), a new effort supported by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). CDI seeks to support both new research and commercialization of existing research that will address the climate crisis and spur economic development. Gadikota’s and Milner’s projects are part of the first round of grants CDI has distributed.

“CDI selects awardees whose work has the highest likelihood to move the needle both in scientific advancement and market development,” said Erik Funkhouser, managing director of CDI. “It’s impressive that the Cornell teams rose to the top in two entirely distinct technical areas – one in CO2 capture, the other in CO2 conversion – as well as in both our R&D program and our startup program.”

The Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability has supported both research efforts, through seed funding from the 2030 Project: A Cornell Climate Initiative, and by hosting Funkhouser at Cornell to help faculty learn about opportunities available through CDI, said Ben Furnas ’06, executive director of the 2030 Project.

“It’s very rewarding to see projects that we funded in their earliest phases get an additional vote of confidence from the team at the Carbontech Development Initiative and New York state,” Furnas said. “This is just one example of how we are seeking to catalyze early stage solutions to daunting climate challenges in this decisive decade for action.”

Greening steel and aluminum manufacturing

Gadikota’s research team has developed technology that harnesses residues from steel and aluminum manufacturing, such as slag and salt cakes, to recover metals critical for renewable energy infrastructure – including manganese, iron, nickel, cobalt and zinc – while simultaneously capturing and durably storing carbon dioxide.

Through the Bridge CarbonTech Initiative, CDI funding to advance commercialization, Gadikota is partnering with Nucor Steel of Auburn, New York, and Novelis Aluminum Mill in Oswego, New York, to commercialize her technology.

“We aim to accelerate decarbonization pathways from leading manufacturing companies in New York,” Gadikota said. “Our technology is designed to achieve an 8% to 10% reduction in CO2 emissions from aluminum and steel manufacturing, while producing energy-critical metals and eliminating the landfilling of these residues in New York state.”

New chemical pathways for carbon capture

Direct removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere relies on technologies that are expensive, energy-intensive and perform well only in dry conditions. Milner and colleagues Brett Fors, professor of chemistry and chemical biology (A&S), and Tristan Lambert, the William T. Miller Professor of Chemistry (A&S), seek to develop new solutions that can bind carbon dioxide more effectively and enable its reuse with less energy. The group will establish the Cornell Center for Carbon Capture and Conversion, which will pursue practical, affordable, scalable technologies for carbon capture.

“Overcoming these limitations is critical in order for direct-air capture to meaningfully contribute to achieving negative emissions in New York state and beyond,” Milner said. “This is a high-risk, high-reward research direction that could lead to fundamental breakthroughs in direct-air capture.”

Krisy Gashler is a freelance writer for the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability.

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