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    Applying science and AI to the challenge of carbon capture

    At the recent Global Sustainable Development Congress in Bangkok, Professor Xi Chen of Lingnan University delivered a keynote address highlighting the urgent need for groundbreaking solutions to combat climate change. As the Chair Professor and Dean of Lingnan’s School of Interdisciplinary Studies, Chen brought a wealth of expertise from his previous roles at Harvard and Columbia Universities.

    Chen’s talk focused on the critical issue of “Addressing Climate Change: Negative Emission based on AI-Driven Evolution of Advanced Materials .” He emphasized that while reducing emissions through clean energy and energy efficiency improvement is crucial, it will not be enough to achieve carbon neutrality and combat climate change on its own. Direct air capture (DAC) of carbon dioxide and other carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technologies are essential to actively remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

    “It is only the CO2 in the air that can affect our climate,” Chen stated. “The Earth has the capability of absorbing CO2 naturally through forests, the oceans, and the soil; however, even during the preindustrial period, that takes tens of thousands of years. Therefore, to rely on Mother Nature to absorb the huge amount CO2 we are now producing will be impossible.”

    With atmospheric CO2 levels now reaching over 420 parts per million (ppm), Chen warned that besides global warming and extreme weather we are experiencing, the first critical threshold is 450 ppm, beyond which the oceans will become dangerously acidic, leading to the potential collapse of coral reef and endanger ocean ecosystems.

    Economy growth heavily relies on energy, where the inertia of fossil fuel is massive and more CO2 will be produced. Chen estimated that even by the time of carbon neutrality, over 40% of carbon emission may still persist and that must be removed through engineering pathways.

    Addressing this challenge, Chen highlighted the development of “moisture swing” materials that can capture CO2 effectively from air. Furthermore, his team developed multiple ways of converting CO2 into various products, closing the carbon loop in an economical way. He led the establishment of China’s first negative emission industrial park zone, and his overall effort of distributed carbon capture and utilization has been recognized by many awards.

    Furthermore, Chen discussed the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in optimizing carbon capture and utilization technologies. He explained that existing AI systems like ChatGPT lack the specific knowledge required to enhance the performance of these systems. By encoding the necessary chemistry language and design principles, Chen’s team has been able to develop generative AI platforms that can predict and optimize innovative materials and processes for more effective carbon removal.

    As the world grapples with the escalating climate crisis, Professor Chen’s work at Lingnan University underscores the critical importance of pursuing multifaceted solutions that combine cutting-edge technology, policy, and individual action. By addressing the challenge of negative emissions through DAC and CCUS, alongside AI-driven advancements in energy systems, the global community can take concrete steps towards a more sustainable future.

    Please click here for details of Lingnan’s talks at the Congress.