Published: Fri, June 08, 2018
Science | By Michele Flores

B.C. company sucking carbon from air, making fuel

B.C. company sucking carbon from air, making fuel

Their work appears June 7 in the journal Joule. The results: Their technology can capture Carbon dioxide for between $94 and $232 per ton, they report today in Joule.

Carbon Engineering acknowledges that their work isn't going to end global warming, but they say it could help bridge the gap between today's economy and its reliance on fossil fuel and a future economy powered by sustainable energies. The higher cost estimates are for plants that would deliver compressed carbon dioxide for permanent underground storage.

Other experts welcomed the study as a step to clear up huge uncertainties about the costs of "direct air capture".

"You can make gasoline or diesel fuel [via direct air capture] but, of course, they didn't come from the ground, so the amount of carbon they emit when they burn is just the amount you used making them, so they're carbon neutral", says Keith.

A Canada-based energy company claims that it is possible to pull carbon dioxide (co2) directly from the air and transform it into useable fuel.

The demonstration facility is already producing small amounts of synthetic fuels. "This is real", he said.

In 2011, a pair of influential papers all but sounded the death knell for direct air capture, concluding that the approach would cost almost an order of magnitude more than capturing the greenhouse gas from power-plant stacks. The company is now making around one barrel a day by combining the pure Carbon dioxide with hydrogen derived from water, using renewable energy.

In an interview this week, Herzog complimented the detailed analysis in the new study, but said he remains skeptical of some of its financial assumptions.

With oil prices climbing and USA gasoline following suit, that's a level that could make this alternative fuel competitive.

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"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".

The cost differences from the earlier studies arise mainly from different design choices.

The DAC technology - combined with access to low-priced, renewable electricity - will allow Carbon Engineering to produce a clean, liquid hydrocarbon fuel that can be mixed with gasoline, and eventually used as a stand-alone fuel, said the former University of Calgary professor who maintains a home in Canmore, Alta.

That's more expensive than most fuels today, but not by much. With small modifications of well-known processes scientists both inside and outside of Carbon Engineering are optimistic that the technology could be expanded to larger operations.

Carbon Engineering recently recruited two former executives from MacDonald Dettwiler, who left the firm that has been taken over by American interests. It's now seeking additional funds to build a larger facility that will begin selling fuels, though still on a relatively small scale. "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". Doing that on a large scale would nearly surely require significant cost reductions, a high price on carbon, or other public policy support.

"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.

Keith says it is still cheaper to cut emissions of carbon dioxide than to remediate them.

"It's very tough, and even tougher if the Carbon dioxide is from your most expensive source, which is the air", he says.

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