U de S student finalists for $100 million carbon removal prize

By Geoff Agombar

Local Journalism Initiative

A team of engineering students from the University of Sherbrooke were among 23 student finalists announced COP26 on Nov. 10.

With this honour, the team will receive $250,000 funding to support development as they compete for $100M XPRIZE awards, including the race for a $50M top prize to be awarded in 2025.

Skyrenu’s winning innovation is a carbon dioxide capture and sequestration process which turns asbestos mine tailings into decontaminated rock, tackling two environmental issues at once.

“Asbestos is a perfect material to react with CO2, as carbon accelerates the breakdown of asbestos, which then becomes inert,” says mechanical engineering professor Martin Brouillette, who supervises the team. “The tailings turn into simple gravel that can be used, for example, as backfill for asbestos sites to restore the landscape to what it was 150 years ago.” 

Here in the Eastern Townships, Skyenu’s direct air capture units can be installed at abandoned asbestos mines within sight of a vast supply feedstock and a massive disposal site. The efficiency of Skyrenu’s process is maximized by drawing on Quebec’s low-carbon hydroelectricity grid while minimizing carbon cost of transportation.

The company calculates a potential to sequester 700,000,000 tonnes of CO2 while processing 2,000,000,000 tonnes of existing mine tailings available in the Townships.

Skyrenu.com describes theirs is “a simple low-temperature process where metals, such as magnesium present in [asbestos mine tailings], react with dissolved CO2 … to form a stable carbonate compound.” (Carbonates come in many commonly known forms like mollusc shells or limestones.)

Skyrenu says their process will store carbon for “millions of years.” Alternatives that capture CO2 in gaseous or biological forms must contend with the potential for carbon to slowly release back into the atmosphere.
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