Museum sets net zero target, unveils new carbon capture exhibit

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London’s Science Museum’s deputy director Julia Knights says they’ll be looking at everything, from supply chains to heating and renewable electricity.

“We are committed to following a science-based target through the Science Based Targets Initiative, following a 1.5 temperature goal and really decarbonising right across our five museums and our collections site,” she says.

“And that really means tackling all that we buy and sell through our supply chains. So, that’s our scope three emissions, and also our direct missions. So, all that we use in terms of gas for heating or cooling, and also renewable electricity as well.”

The museum’s new “Our Future Planet” exhibit is set to open on 19 May, six months ahead of November’s COP26 climate conference in Glasgow.

It’s the first UK exhibit to explore the cutting-edge technologies and nature-based solutions being developed to remove carbon dioxide from our atmosphere.

On show is a cross section of a 300-year-old oak tree, and a prototype “mechanical tree” by Arizona State University professor Klaus Lackner.

“It takes carbon dioxide directly out of the atmosphere. So, just like a living tree,” explains curator Sophie Waring.

“It raises its leaves up, and you can see that they’re made of this amazing, very special kind of paper that these scientists have developed that can absorb carbon dioxide from just atmospheric air when it blows over it.”

The exhibit also includes items made from captured carbon dioxide, including this basalt rock sample by researchers in Iceland, and this “Air” vodka from Switzerland.

The Carbon XPRIZE challenged designers around the world to create usable products from carbon dioxide emissions.

Examples on display include sunglasses, toothpaste, a sandal, and plastic cutlery.

“CO2 is really abundant and we use it for a lot of stuff. The problem with CO2 it’s not that there’s too much in the world, it’s just in the wrong place,” says Waring.

“So, the ambition of carbon capture is to put CO2 back where we need it. And yeah, sometimes that’s going to be vodka and jewellery and fun stuff and other times it’s going to be kind of mass geological storage.”

Authorities in England eased coronavirus restrictions on Monday (12 April), allowing shops, gyms, hairdressers, restaurant patios and beer gardens to reopen after months of lockdown.

Museums, theatres, cinemas, nightclubs, and most other venues won’t be allowed to reopen until at least 17 May.

Britain has had Europe’s worst coronavirus outbreak, with more than 127,000 confirmed deaths.

Infections, hospitalizations, and deaths have all fallen thanks to lockdown, and a mass vaccination program that has given at least one dose to more than 60% of the adult population.

Last month, the Science Museum allowed part of its building to reopen as a vaccination centre.

Knights says preparations are underway for a new coronavirus-focused exhibit that will go on display when the museum reopens on 19 May, five months after it was forced to close in mid-December due to virus restrictions.

“When we reopen our doors, we’ll be showcasing the very first-ever vial, Oxford-AstraZeneca vial, administered to a patient, and the first-ever BioNTech-Pfizer vial administered to a patient in the world. So, really excited about showing those new objects to our visitors,” she says.

Of course, such an extended closure has left a dent in finances.

The Science Museum Group, which includes the National Railway Museum in York and the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, usually welcomes about five million visitors a year.

Despite UK government support, Knights says they lost 20 million pounds in revenue during the last financial year.

It’s unlikely they will bounce back right away due to travel restrictions. About 47 percent of their audience is international, says Knights.

“It’s true to say it has been a difficult time for us, just as it has for all heritage and cultural institutions. We are 20 million pounds down just in this last financial year alone, in terms of lost revenue,” she says.

“So, it is tough, but we are thrilled to be reopening our doors again on the 19th May, guidelines permitting.”

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