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Maxwell Centre

Event Type: 
SRNs/SRIs/IRCs events

Scalable, economical and stable sequestration of agricultural fixed carbon

Speaker: Professor Eli YablonovitchElectrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, UC Berkeley 

Abstract: We describe a scalable, economical solution to the carbon dioxide problem. CO2 is captured from the atmosphere by plants, and the harvested vegetation is then buried in an engineered dry biolandfill. Plant biomass can be preserved for hundreds to thousands of years by burial in a dry environment with sufficiently low thermodynamic “water activity,” which is the relative humidity in equilibrium with the biomass. Maintaining a dry environment within the engineered dry biolandfill is assisted by salt that preserves biomass, which has been known since Biblical times. A “water activity” of less than 60 %, assisted by salt, will not support life, suppressing anaerobic organisms and thus preserving the biomass for thousands of years. Current agricultural costs and biolandfill costs indicate US$60/tonne of sequestered CO2 which corresponds to ~US$ 0.53 per gallon of gasoline. The technology is scalable owing to the large area of land available for nonfood biomass sources. If biomass production is scaled to the level of a major crop, existing CO2 can be extracted annually from the atmosphere, and will simultaneously sequester a significant fraction of world CO2 emissions.  

PNAS Paper: 

Press Coverage: 


Biography: Eli Yablonovitch  is regarded as one of the fathers of photonics, and coined the term "photonic crystal". He introduced the idea that strained semiconductor lasers have superior performance due to reduced valence band (hole) effective mass, enabling efficient lasers for the internet and optical telecommunications. In his photovoltaic research, Eli introduced the 4n2 (“Yablonovitch Limit”) light-trapping factor that is in worldwide use for most commercial solar panels. 

 Eli received his PhD in Applied Physics from Harvard University in 1972. He worked for two years at Bell Telephone Laboratories, and then became a Professor of Applied Physics at Harvard and later worked at Exxon, Bell Communications, and UCLA, before becoming Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at UC Berkeley, where he is the James & Katherine Lau Chair Emeritus in Engineering. He has founded numerous successful start-up companies, and was elected as a Member of the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Inventors, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and is a Foreign Member of the Royal Society of London. He has been awarded the OSA Ives-Quinn Medal, the Benjamin Franklin Medal, the IEEE Edison Medal, the Isaac Newton Medal of the UK Institute of Physics, the Buckley Prize of the American Physical Society, the IEEE W.R. Cherry solar cell award, the Rank Prize (UK), the Harvey Prize (Israel), the IEEE Photonics Award, the IET Mountbatten Medal (UK), the Julius Springer Prize (Germany), the R.W. Wood Prize, the W. Streifer Scientific Achievement Award, and the Adolf Lomb Medal. He also has an honorary PhD from the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, & McGill University, and is honorary Professor at Nanjing University. 


Talk 11am to 12pm followed by lunch from 12pm to 1pm 

All welcome, especially those from underrepresented groups.


Wednesday, 25 October, 2023 - 11:00 to 13:00
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Event location: 
Rayleigh Seminar Room, Maxwell Centre