ChBE Seminar: Negative Emissions Technologies - the Probability of Direct Air Capture

Tuesday, October 12, 2021
11:00 a.m.
0408 ANS (Animal Sciences)
Taylor Woehl

Speaker: Matthew J. Realff, Professor, School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology

Title: Negative Emissions Technologies – The Probability of Direct Air Capture


To engineer a low probability of temperatures exceeding 1.5 to 2C above pre-industrial values this century will require an energy transition to reduce net carbon emissions to the atmosphere. The pace of this transition will need to be unprecedented for an industry will enormous inertia in the form of existing assets both physical and human. Even if a switch to low net carbon energy sources can be accomplished quickly, there is a very strong possibility that the CO2 levels in the atmosphere may reach levels that could cause long term shifts in climate that are very damaging to society. To mitigate this risk we will need negative emission technologies (NETs) that can slow and ultimately reverse the atmospheric accumulation.

There are several NETs that have been proposed, including afforestation, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), mineralization, and direct air capture (DAC). The scale of NET is expected to reach multiple gigatonnes of CO2 per year by mid-century and between 10-20 gigatonnes by the end of the century. This is a massive new industry and one in which chemical engineers are likely to play a critical role.

In this talk, Dr. Realff will highlight why DAC is likely to play an important part in achieving negative emissions and why, despite the very dilute concentration of CO2 in air from a separations perspective, it can be successful. In particular, he will highlight the challenges in solid adsorption approaches for DAC and some progress towards successful systems that can achieve metrics that would lead to reasonable cost and energy use for DAC at scale.


Professor Realff is the David Wang Senior Faculty Fellow in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Georgia Tech. He has fostered multidisciplinary research efforts at Georgia Tech through leadership positions in the Strategic Energy Institute and Renewable Bioproducts Institute.

Professor Realff received his master’s degree in Chemical Engineering from Imperial College London and his Ph.D. from MIT in the area of process systems engineering. He has been a faculty member at Georgia Tech since 1993 and was an NSF program director 2005-2007 where he led initiatives in Resilient and Sustainable systems.

Professor Realff has served as a board member of GreenBlue since 2007 which is the parent non-profit for the Sustainable Packaging Coalition a multi-stakeholder organization with over 500 members dedicated to improving packaging sustainability. He is the founding editor-in-chief of the new Journal of Advanced Manufacturing and Processing part of the AIChE Journal family, and was recently elected an AIChE Fellow.

Audience: Campus 

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