Microsoft has invented a “cryogenic removal” device that freezes and stores carbon dioxide, a novel climate change solution.

Microsoft has submitted a patent application for a device that removes carbon dioxide from the environment by “cryogenic removal.” Microsoft’s patent describes a technique for “cryogenic direct air capture,” which essentially freezes carbon solid at low temperatures.

This is how it operates: According to the filing, atmospheric air is drawn into a “recuperative heat exchanger.” By doing this, the atmospheric air is effectively cooled to just above the “deposition point” of carbon dioxide—the temperature at which a gas solidifies without first going through a liquid phase.

The “deposition surface,” which is cooled by a “cryogenic refrigerator,” is traversed by the cooled air. The carbon dioxide turns into a solid upon contact and is gathered and stored. After the carbon has been taken out, the remaining air is released back into the atmosphere. It goes through a recuperative heat exchanger, which cools the incoming air as it exits, resuming the cycle.

In its application, Microsoft said capturing atmospheric carbon “is needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.” However, current “direct air capture” systems are too expensive and energy-intensive to remove huge volumes of carbon from the atmosphere.According to the firm, natural methods like planting forests also need natural resources “at a scale that is not practical.”

Microsoft states that in 2022, there will be 415 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. “It is at its highest point in human history and is rising annually.”


U.S. Patent & Trademark Office photo

It is only reasonable that Microsoft is looking at additional carbon capture technologies. The business has already applied for a patent on a carbon capture device designed to be used in conjunction with data centres.

Furthermore he corporation has long included carbon removal in its ambitious climate strategy; through its $1 billion Climate Innovation Fund, it has invested in numerous carbon removal startups. By 2030, the corporation wants to be carbon neutral, and by 2050, it wants to have eliminated the equivalent of its historical emissions.

This tech sounds Futurama-ish. Water and carbon dioxide freeze at higher temperatures than other airborne gases makes sense, says Dr. Dan Stein, founder and director of climate consultancy Giving Green. He said Microsoft may struggle to engineer it. Stein said, “Nothing (in the patent) seemed wild.” “But actually doing the cooling will require a lot of energy.”

Stein stated that this patent highlighted a fundamental issue for carbon capture and removal technology: scaling up is costly and complicated. Air capture removal is energy- and money-intensive, costing $1,000 per metric tonne of carbon instead of $100. However, replanting requires labour and land.

“Everyone seems to agree that we need more ideas because there is a lot of stuff that is effective but is costly and difficult to scale up,” Stein said.

Moreover Microsoft was one of the first Big Tech companies to campaign for carbon reduction to address climate change. Stein stated that some tech companies have learned carbon reduction roadmaps can “only get you so far.” His two options for closing the gap are carbon offsets, most of which “are not really reliable,” or carbon removal.

“We haven’t increased it because almost all carbon removal methods have some kind of issue,” he stated. “It is widely acknowledged in the carbon removal community that we still haven’t figured this out.”

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