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10 June 2018, 07:55 | Dale Webster
Carbon Engineering's pilot plant in Squamish
Is that gasoline in the making pouring out of those smokestacks? Now, a team of Harvard scientists say they've found a way to do something equally miraculous: transforming Carbon dioxide from the air we breathe into gasoline.
"Until now, research suggested it would cost $600USD per ton to remove CO2 from the atmosphere using DAC technology, making it too expensive to be a feasible solution to removing legacy carbon at scale", says David Keith, lead researcher on the project.
Hundreds of years of carbon emissions from human activities can provide an essentially unlimited stock of CO2 to be transformed into new fuels, including gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.
However, plans to capture Carbon dioxide directly from the air have been regarded as somewhat more substantial - essentially mirroring the actions of trees. The problem has been finding a way to drop costs and then make it work on a large scale. "We can keep collecting carbon dioxide with direct air capture, keep adding hydrogen generation and fuel synthesis, and keep reducing emissions".
"At CE, we've been working on direct air capture since 2009, running our pilot plant since 2015, and we now have the data and engineering to prove that DAC can achieve costs below (US$100 per tonne)".
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. It is already operating a pilot plant in Squamish, less than an hour's drive from Vancouver.
Keith and Oldham are optimistic that they have reduced scale-up risks by implementing direct air capture at reasonable costs using standard industrial equipment.
The CO2 could be pumped into reserves underground, but Carbon Engineering wants to convert the CO2 into fuel. 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. Each day they absorb about a ton of Carbon dioxide, but they're working on blueprints for a much larger facility which could potentially filter a million tons of Carbon dioxide per year.
"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. It is now seeking funding to build an industrial-scale version of the plant, which Keith says it can complete by 2021. Once captured, the Carbon dioxide would then be used as the main material for a synthetic liquid fuel.
As for the price, previous attempts to do just this have stalled since it could cost up to $1000 to filter a metric ton of carbon dioxide. Still, Field cautions that the technology isn't a silver bullet for combatting climate change-there's no way yet to know whether it can scale up quickly enough to alter Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.
A startup based in Squamish and funded by worldwide investors has created revolutionary new technology has the potential to combat climate change if it could be implemented on a larger scale.
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