Carbon Engineering’s plant in Squamish currently pulls about one tonne of carbon a day from the air and produces about two barrels of fuel. (Canadian Press)

Looking to the sky: B.C. company sucks carbon from air to make fuel

Carbon Engineering removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through a chemical process, adds hydrogen and oxygen to create fuel

It sounds like spinning straw into gold: suck carbon dioxide from the air where it’s contributing to climate change and turn it into fuel for cars, trucks and jets.

A British Columbia company says in newly published research that it’s doing just that — and for less than one-third the cost of other companies working on the same technology.

“This isn’t a PowerPoint presentation,” said Steve Oldham of Carbon Engineering. ”It’s real.”

As policy-makers work on ways to try to keep global warming within the two-degree limit of the Paris agreement, fears have been raised that carbon dioxide emissions won’t be cut fast enough. Some say carbon will have to be actively removed from the atmosphere.

In an article published Thursday in the peer-reviewed journal Joule, Carbon Engineering outlines what it calls direct air capture in which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere through a chemical process, then combined with hydrogen and oxygen to create fuel.

“If these aren’t renewable fuels, what are?” said David Keith, professor of applied physics at Harvard University, lead author of the paper and principal in Carbon Engineering.

At least seven companies worldwide are working on the idea. Swiss-based Climeworks has already built a commercial-scale plant.

It costs Climeworks about US$600 a tonne to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Carbon Engineering says it can do the job for between US$94 and US$232 a tonne because it uses technology and components that are well understood and commercially available.

“We’re tapping into existing industrial equipment and then defining a new process and applying some unique chemistry to it,” said Oldham.

Carbon Engineering’s plant in Squamish, B.C., currently pulls about one tonne of carbon a day from the air and produces about two barrels of fuel. Since its components are off the rack, it should be easy to scale up, Oldham said.

“We’ve bought the smallest scalable unit of each piece of technology we have.”

Carbon Engineering’s fuel costs about 25 per cent more than gasoline made from oil. Oldham said work is being done to reduce that.

Because the plant currently uses some natural gas, by the time the fuel it produces has been burned it has released a half-tonne of carbon dioxide for every tonne removed from the air. That gives it a carbon footprint 70 per cent lower than a fossil fuel, he said.

That footprint would shrink further if the plant were all-electric. And if it ran on wind- or solar-generated electricity, the fuel would be almost carbon neutral.

Long-distance transportation would welcome such fuel, suggested Keith.

“Solar and wind power have got amazingly cheap, but only in really great sites and only when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining. That cheap power doesn’t magically make an airplane go from Winnipeg to Halifax.

“What you need is a way to make a fuel in a place where you’ve got really cheap low-carbon power, and that will power the airplane. That’s the core idea here.”

Putting a price on carbon has been crucial to Carbon Engineering’s development, said Oldham.

“We would not be in business if carbon pricing did not exist.”

Carbon Engineering’s next step is to build a full-scale plant. That’ll take about 2 1/2 years, said Oldham.

One of the great benefits of making fuel from air is energy independence, said Oldham.

“Any country, any region, can have its own fuel. They’d be no longer dependent on the geopolitical situation if Country X has oil and Country Y does not.”

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Spike in Jaffray bear calls cause for concern

In 2018 there were 38 calls about bears spotted in the Jaffray area, compared to one call in 2017.

Snow on the way for Elk Valley

Winter weather advisory issued for East Kootenay with up to 15cm of snow expected over the next week

Snow removal still an issue for mobility challenged in Fernie

Disability advocate sees little improvement in sidewalk clearing; City promises to review policy

Sparwood trails community growing

Sparwood Trails Alliance grows trail network, membership; hosting fatbike event February 2

Huge demand for youth funding in the Elk Valley

Emily Brydon Youth Foundation overwhelmed by 2018/19 winter applications from local youth

Fashion Fridays: Inspirational gym outfits

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Inflation rises as higher airfares, veggie prices offset cheaper gas

Statistics Canada says inflation accelerated to two per cent in December

Social media strains over Prince Rupert’s boil water notice

Resident forms Community for Clean Water, and Jennifer Rice responds to acting mayor’s comments

Dog dies saving B.C. family from burning home

Homeonwers safe but one pet missing, another confirmed dead following fire

Russian fighter jets collide over Sea of Japan crews eject

One plane crashed after its crew ejected safely, the other crew also ejected but they have not been found

Judge to deliver verdict in British sailor’s gang rape case

The alleged gang rape took place at a Halifax-area military base in 2015

B.C. minister fears money laundering involves billions of dollars, cites reports

The government had estimated that it was a $200-million a year operation, instead estimates now peg the problem at $1 billion annually

BC Hydro scammers bilked customers out of nearly $45,000 in 2018

Nearly 2,000 people reported scams to the utility, as they continue to be more common

Olympian snowboarder Max Parrot diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Each year in Canada, approximately 900 people are diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Most Read