World Economic Forum, Carbon, CO2, Decarbonization, Building Materials, Waste, Products, Women, Leadership, Interview, Q/A, Sophia Hamblin Wang
When Sophia Hamblin Wang flew to Davos, Switzerland, in January, swaths of her home country, Australia, was on fire.
"So many of my communities were affected in profound ways. We could feel the impact on a day-to-day basis for a period of three months," she said. "I can't begin to tell you how much living through a climate event really made me sure about my path."
Sophia was at the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos as a global shaper and chief operations officer of MCi, a technology platform that transforms CO2 into building materials and other valuable industrial products.
The company has designed and built three-carbon reactor systems, including its flagship, a world-first global reference pilot plant in Newcastle, Australia â€” which transforms waste materials and emissions created by industrial processes â€” and hopes to lock away 1 billion metric tons of CO2 per annum by 2040.
On our video call, she held up a piece of plasterboard made by combining CO2 with an abundant low-grade rock called serpentinite.
"This is actually a negative emissions building material â€” itâ€™s locked away significantly more CO2 than was used to make it," she said. "So weâ€™re embedding our emissions into our walls. And there are enough deposits of serpentinite in the world to lock away all of the emissions from fossil fuels that have ever and will ever exist."
Back in Davos, as the panel discussed decarbonization, Sophia had a moment of realization, that as the youngest person there, she would have a key role to play in seeing the world meet its Paris Agreement targets â€” reducing emissions to zero by 2050 to limit global warming to 1.5C.
"I was the only person in the room who was still going to be working in 2050. It was the opposite of imposter syndrome. I realized that there was absolutely no other voice like me in this room â€” and itâ€™s super-important to have diversity in these spaces."
Ten months on, Sophia spoke again at the World Economic Forumâ€™s Pioneers of Change Summit, and in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has come a step closer in its race to zero emissions, with pledges from key economies in recent weeks.
On the call, she discussed MCi's Carbon Capture and Use process and why she's a passionate advocate for seeing carbon as a valuable resource.
Kate Whiting: What is mineral carbonation?
Sophia Hamblin Wang: Since the Industrial Revolution, weâ€™ve been putting too much CO2 into the atmosphere. And so we know, based upon the IPCC report, and many of the intergovernmental organizations, that we need to reduce our emissions and reach net zero by 2050. But we also know that weâ€™ll probably need to draw down CO2 out of the atmosphere and do something with it. So MCi is developing technology that turns CO2 into usable materials.
We use the Earthâ€™s natural process of storing CO2, which is called mineral carbonation or weathering. Dissolved carbon dioxide reacts with the minerals in rock to produce carbonate, which is stable over a long period of time and can be used in construction. The White Cliffs of Dover in England are an example of Earthâ€™s natural weathering process â€” over millions of years, CO2 has been absorbed into those cliffs and thatâ€™s why theyâ€™re white. Weâ€™ve just taken that process from millions of years into a matter of hours in an industrial setting.
Whiting: What products is MCi making?
Wang: Our technology is like a black box, where you can feed in industrial wastes like steel slags or incinerator bottom ash, or quarried local minerals, lots of different minerals and then a flue gas.
We donâ€™t actually need pure CO2, but any kind of gas that may come straight out of a stack pipe, and then we react that in our facility, and we create an output which can be processed into various things. At the pilot plant in Newcastle, Australia weâ€™ve been building and creating carbonate products every day, like this cement brick, and plasterboard.
Itâ€™s a whole circular economy where you treat your waste and turn it into new products. Treating CO2 as a resource and embracing carbon capture and use will, we think, bring about change quicker in harder-to-abate industries in particular. Creating business models out of climate change is quite exciting and it may bring about change to emissions faster than waiting for