Published: Fri, June 08, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Calgary company can capture Carbon dioxide at a cost of $94 per ton

Calgary company can capture Carbon dioxide at a cost of $94 per ton

Climate scientists say countries will need to drop Carbon dioxide emissions to near zero by midcentury and then remove more Carbon dioxide than they emit, if the planet is to avoid a catastrophic 2°C warming.

"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.

The company believes it can produce virtually-zero-carbon fuel at cost roughly 25 per cent higher than that of traditional gasoline, but will see even greater revenues due to various climate-change policies that put a premium on low-carbon alternatives. Sequestration of carbon captured from the air would amount to a net reduction of CO2 in the atmosphere, known as negative emissions.

"It's unlike Carbon dioxide capture that's created to work from a power plant".

The idea of direct air capture is hardly new, but the successful implementation of a scalable and cost-effective working pilot plant is.

The latest tests and cost analysis were conducted by Carbon Engineering, a Canadian company trying to commercialize CO2-extraction technology.

We feast on fossil fuels to power our cars, trains, manufacturing plants and cities, but our reliance on them means we continue to flood our atmosphere with carbon dioxide now reaching levels higher than ever before.

The pilot plant in Canada.

Carbon Engineering's plant in Squamish, B.C., now pulls about one tonne of carbon a day from the air and produces about two barrels of fuel.

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After several processing steps, a purer stream of Carbon dioxide is extracted and the capturing liquid is returned to the air contactor. "These guys actually have something you can measure", says Stephen Pacala, an ecologist with Princeton University who is chairing a panel on carbon removal technologies for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Carbon Engineering recently recruited two former executives from MacDonald Dettwiler, who left the firm that has been taken over by American interests.

"I hope this changes views about this technology from being this thing which people think is a magic saviour which it isn't, or that it is absurdly expensive which it isn't, to an industrial technology that is do-able and can be developed in a useful way". They will use the gas to make synthetic, low-carbon fuels. After heating and chemical reactions, the carbon dioxide can be extracted - and used either for making fuel or for storage. After 3 years, Keith and his colleagues had collected enough data to calculate the plant's efficiency-and project the costs of building a commercial scale plant with the same technology.

Keith says producing synthetic fuels offers a sustainable business model that could help companies scale up and reduce the costs of the technology, easing the path to that eventual goal.

Making direct air capture as cheap as possible is critical because a growing body of work finds it's going to be almost impossible to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 ˚C without rolling out some form of the technology on a huge scale.

"Although direct air capture cost of around $100 per tonne is still somewhat steep, in our current situation where sticks and carrots for similar technologies are sorely lacking, the cost can only be brought down through further development and streamlining of individual technologies and conjugated processes", Edda Sif Aradóttir, from Reykjavik Energy told BBC News. Once purified, the captured Carbon dioxide can be injected underground or used to make commercial products, such as fuels or plastics.

"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.

Carbon Engineering has secured $30 million to date.

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