Key ‘step forward’ in cutting cost of removing CO2 from air

Maybe we can afford to suck CO2 out of the sky after all

B.C. start-up says it can slash carbon-capture costs, replace gasoline at competitive price

But a Canadian firm called Carbon Engineering is proposing a method of collecting carbon dioxide in the air via a method called "direct air capture", and converting that CO2 into a form of usable power that wouldn't disrupt modern technology that now relies on fossil fuels, like cars.

"The carbon dioxide generated via direct air capture can be combined with sequestration for carbon removal, or it can enable the production of carbon-neutral hydrocarbons, which is a way to take low-priced carbon-free power sources like solar or wind and channel them into fuels that can be used to decarbonise the transportation sector", said lead author David Keith, founder and chief scientist of Carbon Engineering and professor of applied physics and public policy at Harvard University.

The research was released this week, showing that the process costs less than USD$600 per ton (as it was previously mentioned).

Keith is also a founder and executive chairman of Carbon Engineering, a Bill Gates-funded company that has studied how to directly remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. "This is real", he said.

A Canadian company has taken a key step towards developing carbon capture technology that could pay for itself. That gives it a carbon footprint 70 per cent lower than a fossil fuel, he said. "This must change quickly if we are to fulfil the Paris agreement", she explained. Keith and other scientists are advocating for more resources to study geoengineering techniques to manipulate the climate. "Direct air capture" that removes the gas from ambient air has possible since the 1940s, but - at a cost estimated in 2011 to be as much as $1,000 per metric ton of Carbon dioxide - it has always been viewed as too expensive to be practical.

"Until now, basically no one in the industry has published an open-book number that will give credibility that direct air capture costs less than the $500 to $1,000 per metric ton that has been estimated", Deich said.

Climeworks estimates it costs them $600 to remove a ton of CO2.

David Keith, the Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, thinks it can be done for a lot less.

Keith is also the founder of Carbon Engineering, a Calgary-based startup that has spent the last nine years designing, refining, and testing a direct air capture pilot plant in Squamish, British Columbia. It captures one tonne of Carbon dioxide on a daily basis.

The 2015-built Carbon Engineering pilot plant on the Squamish waterfront.

With new data and engineering to support its findings, it believes it can achieve the same for between USD$94 and USD$232 per ton. A renewable energy-powered electrolyzer first splits water into hydrogen (H2) and oxygen. Then it's prepped for other uses by heating and other chemical reactions.

"For liquid fuels we need better answers, this approach, Carbon dioxide from the air plus hydrogen you get from renewables to make fuels, that's the pathway". The company will have to: prove there's a market for the carbon-neutral synthetic fuel, ramp up operations for large-scale plants, and keep costs low enough to be a feasible solution for climate change. Since its components are off the rack, it should be easy to scale up, Oldham said.

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