• Jessica Zimmer

Rising Harvard Freshman Devinder Sarai’s Plan to Slow Climate Change

Cequest, a company with a new technology to reduce global warming, is set to spotlight the value of absorbing excess carbon dioxide dissolved in the world’s oceans. This fall, inventor Devinder Sarai will build the company’s prototype at a lab at Harvard University.


Devinder Sarai
Harvard University undergraduate student and inventor Devinder Sarai. Courtesy of Devinder Sarai

Sarai surpassed a fundraising goal of $10,000 through IndieGoGo in mid-August 2021. Sarai plans to work on the prototype as he takes first-year courses in computer science, climate change and environmental studies.


“I am looking for other team members to bring on board this project. My new goal is to win the $100 million grand prize from Elon Musk’s XPRIZE Carbon Removal competition,” said Sarai.


The XPRIZE competition calls for a team to demonstrate a working solution to remove at least 1,000 tons of CO2 from Earth’s atmosphere per year. The competition opened on April 22, 2021, and will last through 2025.


“By 2024, I’d like to have a Cequest factory up and running,” said Sarai.


Sarai said the refrigerator-sized prototype will pump about 10,000 liters of saltwater per day from the ocean. The machine will then electrolyze the saltwater. Electrolysis involves separating bonded chemicals and compounds by passing an electric current through the solution. The process separates the seawater into hydrogen and oxygen gas and allows for the release of a stream of CO2 gas.


The device then captures this stream of gas and combines it with limestone. The CO2-infused rocks can later be placed back in the ocean. This step sequesters the mineralized carbon long-term.


Sarai said the prototype’s main components include an electrolysis unit, a degasser to draw the CO2 from the water, and a small limestone reactor. Other parts include tubing, piping and pumps. The machine will also have instruments to measure the pH of the water before and after the procedure. The prototype is expected to sequester 5 kilograms of CO2 per day.


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Sarai said a large-scale device of this sort could sequester 1 million tons of CO2 per year. That would be akin to removing 1 million cars from the road a year.


“I was inspired to found Cequest because I saw the effects of several natural disasters near my hometown of Ottawa,” said Sarai.


In 2017, there was a 100-year flood event close to the city.


“In 2018, tornadoes tore through Ottawa. Many houses and businesses were decimated. In 2019, we had a second 100-year flood event in two years. That really got to me,” said Sarai.


Sarai hopes his carbon-sequestering machine will be one of many devices developed to address climate change in the next few years.


“I want to take a positive stance on the issue. I think governments should offer economic incentives to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere,” said Sarai.


Sarai said he’s thankful for the over 80 donors from Ottawa and around the world who contributed to fund the prototype.


“I will be working further on Cequest with innovation consultant Richard DeVaul, who has worked with Apple and Google X, Andrew Blanchard, a partner at the investment firm Jacket River, and Ian Lockhart, a senior director of The Knowledge Society, a 10-month, Ottawa-based innovation program for students ages 13 through 17. Now that we have the funding, I am cautiously optimistic about sharing the potential of this low-cost and scalable technology,” said Sarai.


 

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