A Canadian company has taken a key step towards developing carbon capture technology that could pay for itself. The technology, being developed by Carbon Engineering, aims to strip CO2 from the air and turn it into a carbon-neutral fuel that could then go straight back into cars.
One of the main problems with the technology to date has simply been one of scale and, more importantly, cost. A study carried out in 2011 concluded that to capture a single ton of carbon it would cost around $600, which needless to say is simply far too expensive.
But Carbon Engineering claim to have dramatically slashed this, bringing it down to $100 per ton and making the whole process far more economical.
“[Carbon Engineering’s] vision is to reduce the effects of climate change by first cutting emissions, then by reducing atmospheric CO2,” explains the company’s CEO Steve Oldham. “Our clean fuel is fully compatible with existing engines, so it provides the transportation sector with a solution for significantly reducing emissions, either through blending or direct use.”
“Our technology is scalable, flexible and demonstrated.”
The company was set up in 2009, with its main backers including Bill Gates and the oil sands funder Norman Murray Edwards. It works by pulling air into cooling towers, where it then comes into contact with a solution of potassium hydroxide, which reacts with the CO2 to make potassium carbonate. After a few more steps, the company is effectively left with a pellet of calcium carbonate.
This can then be used one of two ways. When heated, the pellet releases the CO2 that can then be pressurized and pumped underground. However, the company plan to use the gas – with the addition of hydrogen derived from water – to make a carbon-neutral synthetic fuel that can be directly used by cars, boats, and planes.
One of the main criticisms against the development of new technologies like these is that it is all just a distraction from the more boring efforts that could be done to cut carbon emissions here and now. We already have many of the technological solutions necessary, it just requires politicians, governments, and legislation to push them through.
By doing it this way, however, companies argue that once the atmospheric CO2 levels have been brought back down to safe levels, it could potentially provide an unlimited clean and renewable form of fuel, which would likely attract significant investment.
Carbon Engineering have been running a pilot plant since 2015, and currently harvest about a ton of carbon a day. In the future, they hope that this will become roughly 2,000 barrels of fuel.