Company says it is sucking carbon from air, making fuel

  • Company says it is sucking carbon from air, making fuel

Company says it is sucking carbon from air, making fuel

A Canadian company, backed by Bill Gates, says it has reached an important threshold in developing technology that can remove Carbon dioxide from the air.

Carbon Engineering has secured $30 million to date.

"The carbon dioxide generated via direct air capture can be combined with sequestration for carbon removal, or it can enable the production of carbon-neutral hydrocarbons, which is a way to take low-priced carbon-free power sources like solar or wind and channel them into fuels that can be used to decarbonize the transportation sector", says lead author David Keith, founder and chief scientist of Carbon Engineering, a Canadian CO2-capture and clean fuels enterprise, and a professor of applied physics and public policy at Harvard University.

Plans to build solar shields in space or to seed the seas with materials to soak up carbon have been seen as risky and a distraction to the more mundane but hard task of getting people to cut their emissions.

Direct air capture technology works nearly exactly like it sounds.

The idea was first developed by a scientist called Klaus Lackner in the mid 1990s and since then a small number of technology companies have built expensive prototypes of carbon removing devices. Commercialization of such plants would allow direct air capture to make a dent in transportation emissions by connecting low-cost renewable energy to low-carbon transportation fuels using Carbon Engineering's AIR TO FUELSTM pathway.

Set up in 2009 with funding from Microsoft's Bill Gates and Canada oil sands financier Norman Murray Edwards, their pilot plant has been running since 2015, capturing about one tonne of Carbon dioxide per day. The solution reacts with Carbon dioxide to produce potassium carbonate. The crucial CO2-capturing chemical is recycled. The last comprehensive analysis of the technology, conducted by the American Physical Society in 2011, estimated that it would cost $600 per tonne. But Carbon Engineering say that by adapting existing technologies they have been able to slash this significantly.

Dr. Keith acknowledged that scaling up to a commercial-size plant can prove more costly than anticipated, but insisted the technology is largely proven.

Carbon Engineering plans to combine the carbon captured at its plants with hydrogen to produce carbon-neutral synthetic fuels, a process the pilot facility has already been performing.

"It'd be such a great solution-if it were real", MIT Energy Initiative senior researcher Howard Herzog, who coauthored the study that found costs could top $1,000 a ton, said at the time.

Mr. Oldham said the air-to-fuel process could reduce the need to electrify the transportation system by providing a carbon-neutral alternative to traditional fuels. They will use the gas to make synthetic, low-carbon fuels. Now, in a new study, scientists say future chemical plants could drop that cost below $100 per ton-which could make synthetic fuels a reality in places such as California that incentivize low-carbon fuels.

Others in the industry welcomed the fact that Carbon Engineering were bringing down costs, but felt that further incentives from governments were needed for carbon capture, utilisation and storage to achieve its potential.

Climeworks, a Swiss company and Carbon Engineering's main rival, also told Reuters it was hoping to cut its production price to $100 a tonne in the next 5-10 years, from about $600 now.

What if we could directly capture Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turn that into fuel?

"The biggest challenge we are facing is, however, that the words agreed on in the Paris agreement must be followed by actions".

Until now, the cost of climate change has been all about projections.

Those involved with Carbon Engineering are acutely aware of the challenges.

"For liquid fuels we need better answers, this approach, Carbon dioxide from the air plus hydrogen you get from renewables to make fuels, that's the pathway".