What organisms/natural systems did you learn from and how did what you learned inform your design?
Humpback whale tubercles, human lung alveoli and the carbon fixing enzymes in cyanobacteria inspired our final design. The tubercles decrease drag and increase lift. This gave us the idea of using that shape for the fans that suck air into our device. We also needed a structure that maximized surface area so we looked at many organisms. The best result we found was within ourselves: the human lung. The large surface to volume ratio of the human lung allows for maximum carbon sequestration and diffusion in our module. Lastly, Carbonic Anhydrase and rubisco were found in cyanobacteria. The presence of Carbonic Anhydrase increases the conversion rate of Rubisco by 1000 fold. We decided this efficiency was a must in our solution that would convert the carbon dioxide to bicarbonate.
What is the problem you are trying to solve and how is it related to climate change?
Every year, the entire world pumps 38.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. While limiting these emissions by becoming carbon-neutral is crucial, existing carbon dioxide will remain in the atmosphere for up to two thousand years. This greenhouse gas will keep the average global temperature 1 Celsius above pre-industrial times. Climate change will lead to potentially devastating impacts such as extreme weather events and sea level rise. These impacts will displace millions of people and create great financial burden. In order to reduce this average temperature, the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide must be decreased.
What does your design do? How does it address the problem or opportunity you selected
The Carbon Lung will be placed on wind turbines to create a closed system for carbon capture and utilization. Tubercle inspired blades will pull atmospheric air through a funnel concentrating air into interconnected chambers. As the chambers are filled with air, CO2 will diffuse through the semipermeable membrane allowing it into the outer shell of the chamber. The outer shell contains a carbon fixing solution which captures and converts CO2 into bicarbonate. The chemical reaction responsible for this conversion is called carbon fixation. Carbon fixation is the conversion of CO2 into another carbon substance. Cyanobacteria have specialized enzymes that fix carbon. These enzymes are rubisco and carbonic anhydrase. These carbon fixing molecules will be extracted to develop our own carbon fixing solution. The byproduct of this chemical process yields bicarbonate that can later be processed into fertilizer. If 50 of these modules are placed on all 56,800 wind turbines in the U.S., 3.8 million tons of CO2 can be captured each year.