A group of Cal Poly alumni and current students are doing far more than carpooling and recycling to reduce their carbon footprint. The team, called CO2 extrACTION, is working to combat climate change through a device that extracts carbon dioxide from the air.

Since Winter 2017, they have been working to create a carbon dioxide extraction panel to reduce greenhouse gases and mitigate climate change. The product is now in the prototyping phase, with the goal of an official launch in October 2019.

The device contains a resin and is designed to be added to existing buildings to reduce their carbon footprint. Once added to buildings, the resin in the panel absorbs surrounding carbon dioxide, thus reducing greenhouse gases. Lead scientist and chemistry senior Christian Vian likens the device to a carbon dioxide sponge.

“Imagine you have a tank of water. You put the sponge in it and it soaks up a bunch of water,” Vian said. “Similarly, we have a closed system with a certain amount of [carbon dioxide] in it. We put the resin in, and when we take the resin out, we measure the [carbon dioxide] in that atmosphere. Whatever the difference is is now caught in the resin.”

The process of capturing carbon dioxide is called carbon dioxide removal (CDR). The panel performs CDR in a “passive, carbon negative and economically sustainable fashion” as explained on the CO2 extrACTION site. 

“It extracts 870 grams per day of [carbon dioxide],” Vian said. “That’s equivalent to the amount of [carbon dioxide] that your car emits on the drive to school.”

Vian was brought onto the team in Spring 2018, but the CO2 extrACTION team started with Anna Laird, Megan Hanck and Kristin Fauske, who graduated that same quarter. General engineering alumna Laird worked alongside architecture alumni Hanck and Fauske to brainstorm ideas for a multi-disciplinary senior project. They said they were captivated by the state of the planet’s environment and recognized a desperate need for change thus, the idea for the carbon dioxide extractor was born.

“We identified a large contributor to climate change as the amount of pollution being produced, specifically carbon dioxide, and used that as a starting point for our design process,” Laird said. “Our goal was to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air to help combat the negative effects of climate change. We conceptualized the CO2 Extractor … and got to work solidifying the design.”

Hanck said she hopes the product will lead to a “significant carbon drawdown and an increasing public awareness of environmental issues.”

Though the initial team members have graduated, they have all continued to work with CO2 extrACTION. The team has continued to grow with the addition of Vian and a mechanical engineering student.

Along with the guidance of professors, investments from team individuals and money gathered from competitions, the group continues to press forward on their mission to counteract climate change.

The next phase for the team, according to Vian, is to gather funds to perfect the product. Most important, he said, is that the team counteract climate change with their carbon dioxide extraction panel, and that other businesses follow suit.

“The motivation here is that there’s too much carbon in the atmosphere and someone needs to do something to bring it down, like now,” Vian said. “It’s not about what can be done in the future, it’s about what you can do to help this problem now.”

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