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

RDCK to purchase lands around Cottonwood Lake

21.6 hectares will be purchased for $450,000

COLUMN: Helping my father keep his dignity as he was dying

Nelson teacher Robyn Sheppard reflects on the life and death of her father

Nelson presents proposed 2019 budget with undecided tax increase

Further details will be available after a council meeting in April.

Nelson to get legal opinion on right-to-life street banner

Does the Nelson Right to Life banner violate the Charter of Rights?

Celebrate World Water Day in Crescent Valley

The event is organized by the Perry Ridge Watershed Association

VIDEO: Restaurant robots are already in Canada

Robo Sushi in Toronto has waist-high robots that guide patrons to empty seats

Permit rejected to bring two cheetahs to B.C.

Earl Pfeifer owns two cheetahs, one of which escaped in December 2015

Real-life tsunami threat in Port Alberni prompts evacuation updates

UBC study says some people didn’t recognize the emergency signal

Care providers call for B.C. seniors’ watchdog to step down

The association also asks the province to conduct an audit and review of the mandate of her office

Nitro Cold Brew Coffee from B.C. roaster recalled due to botulism scare

“If you purchased N7 Nitro Cold Brew Coffee from Cherry Hill … do not drink it.”

B.C. man gets award for thwarting theft, sexual assault – all in 10 minutes

Karl Dey helped the VPD take down a violent sex offender

Baby left alone in vehicle in B.C. Walmart parking lot

Williams Lake RCMP issue warning after attending complaint at Walmart Wednesday

College of the Rockies to add 96 beds for student housing in Cranbrook

$17.7 million project featuring six cottege-style buildings to be completed by 2020

Nowhere to grieve: How homeless people deal with loss during the opioid crisis

Abbotsford homeless advocate says grief has distinct challenges for those living on the streets

Most Read