This article originally appeared on U of T Chemistry News.

What if rail systems around the world could be harnessed to help mitigate climate change and clean our air of CO2? It’s a question that the founders of a US-based startup, CO2Rail, have been pondering for a number of years. CO2Rail recently partnered with U of T researchers, including CPE Member Geoffrey Ozin, to explore the feasibility of adding direct air carbon capture technology to freight and passenger trains.

Direct air capture (“DAC”) is a technology that removes carbon dioxide from the air with special machines and compresses it for utilization or permanent storage. The process, however, can be energy and land intensive and often very expensive.

This is why a team of researchers from Canada, the US, England and Germany have set their sights on designing DAC technology that uses less energy and less land at a viable cost. This multi-disciplinary team includes CPE Member and U of T Professor Geoffrey Ozin of the department of chemistry.

The team outlined their plan in Joule to place DAC equipment within special rail cars on already-running trains to take advantage of the global rail network. They were able to demonstrate that rail-based direct air carbon capture could be a near carbon-neutral system capable of harvesting 2.9 gigatonnes of C02 by 2050.

The research team says that, in the near-term, each direct air capture car will harvest over 6,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide from the air per year and much more as the technology develops. In the Joule paper, the authors were also able to demonstrate how this technology could scale down to less than $50 USD per tonne.

The next step for CO2Rail is to complete the first prototype and to test it in real-world environments. Ozin believes the first direct air carbon capture railcar will be in production by early 2023.

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