Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Carbon Engineering: cost-effective chemical capture of carbon directly from the air

The recent floods in the Canadian city of Calgary forced over 100,000 residents from their homes. The damage from the rising water has been projected to cost between $3 billion and $5 billion in direct losses, it will likely cost further billions from impacts to future productivity and economic output in the region and a few priceless lives were also sadly lost. And whilst floods are naturally occurring phenomena, flood frequency and the number of people at risk from inundation are both likely to increase as the world’s global average temperature continues to rise.

Fortunately, beyond its recognition as the economic core of the Oil Sands and the host of the 1988 Winter Olympics (!), Calgary is also home to a thriving community of social entrepreneurs. And one such enterprise aiming to deliver strong long term returns to people and the planet on the back of a highly successful business venture is Direct Air Capture developer – and Virgin Earth Challenge finalist – Carbon Engineering.

Carbon Enginering’s (CE’s) technology strategy is to combine proven, scalable industrial technologies with CE’s proprietary designs and innovations to develop a low-risk, chemical-based CO2 air capture system that they can  bring to market in the near-term with competitive economics.

Virgin Earth Challenge is interested in Direct Air Capture and Carbon Engineering due to their strong potential to be one of many scalable, sustainable activities for removing greenhouse gases from the air in the future. And we’re excited to see the Direct Air Capture finalists continue to achieve important technological milestones and further validate their underlying economics.

Beyond the Earth Challenge however, appropriate policy and market conditions to allow and enable Direct Air Capture enterprises for GHG removal at a material scale seem to be a way off. So Direct Air Capture innovators are targeting a range of applications and opportunities to achieve commercial footholds that may take them to scale, and show us all that the material carbon-negative ambition is real and sustainable. DAC developers have suggested ideas from using air-captured CO2 to recover oil and gas reserves , to using the CO2 as a feedstock for advanced biofuels, or to enabling synthetic renewable fuel processes, all three of which lead to “drop in” ready fuels that have much lower life-cycle carbon emissions than the fuels we use today.

a low-risk, chemical-based CO2 air capture system with competitive economics

There are, of course, challenges facing Direct Air Capture. It’s been dealt its fair share of opposition and skepticism in the past, and its proponents are mindful of the moral hazard of becoming an excuse for ‘business as usual’ within the fossil energy sector. Direct Air Capture innovators like
Carbon Engineering, working with policymakers, NGOs and strategic partners, look increasingly likely to take the global energy sector to a place where humanity can still benefit from the advantages of hydrocarbons in a truly sustainable, cyclical, renewables-driven way. And at the same time, there’s a good chance they’ll become an important component within a portfolio of scalable, sustainable ways of removing GHGs from the atmosphere, to work in conjunction with mitigation to meet international emissions reduction targets and ensure a stable climate and healthy oceans for many generations to come.

Carbon Engineering was awarded funding from CCEMC in November 2012, and is currently constructing their next generation end-to-end plant. Carbon Order, an independent UK-based investment fund focussed on negative emission technologies, including direct air capture, has established a dedicated vehicle as the European investment arm of Carbon Engineering, for which it is raising a round of series B equity financing.