Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Carbon Engineering Breaks Ground on New Pilot Demonstration Plant

The CE team is excited to have broken ground on our new pilot demonstration project this past month in Squamish, BC. For the past year, we’ve been working diligently on financing and engineering our most ambitious hardware demonstration project yet. We are now entering the construction phase of our full end-to-end demonstration plant.

Squamish composite

Images courtesy of Carbon Engineering

This demo plant (aka pilot plant) will come online later this year, and will scrub CO2 directly from the atmosphere into our liquid capture solution. It will then process this solution over a series of steps to produce purified CO2, and at the same time, re-make the original capture chemical. Our plant will in fact be the largest to-date to produce a concentrated and purified stream of atmospheric CO2.

This will prove that we can do all the difficult technical steps of capturing CO2 out of the air and preparing it for storage (the bit the VEC is interested in) or use. We’ve already begun to seek partner companies that utilize CO2 to make carbon-neutral products or fuels, with the prospect of hosting them on our site to further demonstrate the uses and benefits of our system.

From the data we gain while running this plant, we’ll then be able to reliably design a larger “first of a kind” commercial plant, which will actually use the captured CO2 to produce low-carbon fuels.

Key to the success of this demonstration plant, we have designed the hardware in conjunction with our main industrial partners who will supply full commercial-scale equipment for each of the sub-systems within our technology. Together, we’ll take data from this demonstration plant, and use it to trouble-shoot and optimize the equipment before we move on to a full commercial plant.

In parallel to our pilot plant, CE is investing significant effort in market development. These efforts center on developing the business models and partnerships that will provide reliable revenue streams to cover the costs of building and operating such a plant.

We all work at CE because we believe in the ability of air capture to help mitigate carbon emissions and avoid dangerous climate change. But as of yet, markets do not exist that allow us to sustain a business on the environmental benefit of removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere alone; and the limited set of carbon markets that have been established have generated low prices insufficient on which to launch genuinely new technologies. So while waiting for clear, strong, and large-scale policy to develop around carbon emissions that would spur technologies like ours, we are also continuing to work on business models that produce high-value products by using atmospheric CO2.

One such possibility is using atmospheric CO2 during the manufacture of fuels, which gives them a very low carbon intensity, and allows them to sell at a premium or to generate credits under systems like California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard. This can be done by using the air-captured CO2 in biological and synthetic fuel production processes, or in Enhanced Oil Recovery to produce ‘low carbon crude’.  Enabling industrial-scale carbon-neutral transportation fuels is one of the key pathways by which air capture might help us all meet our longer-term goal of prosperous net-carbon-neutral economies and beyond.

Breaking ground at our Squamish site represents a major achievement in our pilot demonstration project, signifying that we have completed the engineering and design of our plant, and are now ready to have major equipment arrive at site for installation over the next few months. Our project is likely be in the public media as we move towards actual start-up, and we look on operations and results in the coming months.

We’re excited to move into the next phase of this project with the full support of our industrial partners, the funding agencies who have contributed to this effort, and the help of the Squamish community.

Video courtesy of Carbon Engineering

By Geoff Holmes, Business Development Manager, Carbon Engineering