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SEAS' Gordon Keith has a plan to slash costs of CO2 capture

11 June 2018
SEAS' Gordon Keith has a plan to slash costs of CO2 capture

IMAGINE DRIVING UP to your local gas station and being able to choose between regular, premium, or carbon-free gasoline.

Canada-based clean engineering company Carbon Engineering outlined the design for a large industrial facility that said it could collect carbon dioxide from the air at a cost of United States dollars 94 to USD 232 per tonne.

"What Carbon Engineering is taking to market is first of all carbon neutral fuels, in that sense we are just another emissions-cutting technology, there is no net removal from the atmosphere", he said.

"This is a real step forward, and it's not just our company saying it", Prof David Keith from Harvard University, and a founder of Carbon Engineering told BBC News.

A Canadian company by the name of Carbon Engineering has come up with a system that makes liquid fuel by sucking carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere and combining it with hydrogen from water. Following that, several tech firms have built prototypes of devices that will remove carbon from the air. The findings were based on three years of research at a pilot plant in Squamish, British Columbia. The company used existing industrial processes to scale up and reduce costs.

Carbon Engineering has published a peer-reviewed study showing that they can capture carbon for under $100 a tonne.

Air capture technology has been around for a while, but it was originally wildly expensive, theoretically costing up to $1,000 for every ton of captured CO2.

CE's direct air capture equipment. That's a key long-term goal as the scientists expect fossil-fuel use to continue for many decades, and the world to miss its target of limiting concentrations in the atmosphere and holding the increase in global temperatures to well below 2-degree C.

Still, even at $100 per ton, there aren't enough Carbon dioxide buyers right now.

"Our fundamental value proposition for fuel is that we can decarbonize any vehicle", said Steve Oldham, chief executive officer of Carbon Engineering. Those include the use of horizontally rather than vertically stacked structures, lower energy demands due to improved heat integration in the process, and the power sources selected to run the plant. It is already operating a pilot plant in Squamish, less than an hour's drive from Vancouver.

But Carbon Engineering claim to have dramatically slashed this, bringing it down to $100 per ton and making the whole process far more economical.

"It costs more than a barrel of oil right now, but in places with a price on carbon of $20 a ton we're competitive", Oldham said in an interview.

While it's probably a few more years until we start seeing this technology be used en-masse what Carbon Engineering have done is show that technically as well as theoretically, it is very much possible, and affordable. British Columbia has a carbon price of C$35 a ton, and all of Canada will have a $10 price in September that will rise to C$50 in 2022. "We can keep collecting carbon dioxide with direct air capture, keep adding hydrogen generation and fuel synthesis, and keep reducing emissions through this AIR TO FUELSTM pathway". Carbon Engineering's technique was developed specifically to address this.

"This same method can also be seen as ". 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", he explained.