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Bill Gates-backed startup creates Lego-like brick that can store air pollution for centuries: 'A milestone for affordably removing carbon dioxide from the air'

It plans to bury 50,000 tons of carbon dioxide next year.

It plans to bury 50,000 tons of carbon dioxide next year.

Photo Credit: Graphyte

The pipe dream of carbon capture is one step closer to reality thanks to a Bill Gates-backed startup that is burying bricks made from plants.

The Washington Post detailed a "deceptively simple" procedure by Graphyte to sequester blocks of wood chips and rice hulls, calling it "a game-changer" for the industry, which has been held back by the cost ineffectiveness of other methods. 

"The approach, the company claims, could store a ton of CO2 for around $100 a ton, a number long considered a milestone for affordably removing carbon dioxide from the air," the outlet reported.

Direct air capture technologies used in the United States and Iceland cost $600 to $1,200 per ton, per the Post.

Because industries such as construction, which features cement-making, a top global polluter, and aviation, which is working on sustainable fuels, are so energy-intensive, it's difficult for them to rely on renewable energy and electric power, according to the Post.

"We've bet the future of our planet on our ability to remove CO2 from the air," Chris Rivest, who is a partner at Gates' Breakthrough Energy Ventures, told the Post. "Pretty much every [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] scenario that has a livable planet involves us pulling like 5 to 10 gigatons of CO2 out of the air by mid- to late-century."

So, Graphyte wants to cut out the natural step of plant decay — which releases stored carbon back into the atmosphere — by taking plant waste from timber companies and farmers, drying it, compressing it, and wrapping it "into Lego-like bricks," and storing it 10 feet underground. The Post reported the shoebox-size blocks can remain there for a thousand years "with the right monitoring."

Working with local paper mills, the company opened its first facility in April in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, saying it is the largest carbon removal plant in the world. It plans to bury 50,000 tons of carbon dioxide next year, which would make it the largest carbon removal company in the world.

The Post reported that if Graphyte can source plant waste and erect similar facilities all over the nation, its simple approach could succeed.

"People that are academics probably thought about this before and were like, 'That's way too simple,'" Graphyte science adviser Daniel Sanchez told the Post. "'No one's ever going to do that.'"

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