Carbon Engineering Technology to Extract CO2 From the Air and Turn It to Fuel

Canadian startup Carbon Engineering (CE) has developed technology to take carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere and turn it into fuel. The development could open new ways to exploit renewable energy and fight climate change.

Hacked reached out to Geoff Holmes, CE Business Development Manager, to find out more.

“CE is designing a technology to process ambient atmospheric air (where CO2 exists at 400 ppm concentration), scrub out the CO2, and provide it as a pure compressed stream for use or storage,” said Holmes.

An Innovative Green Technology Funded by Bill Gates

Carbon Engineering PlantThe CE website notes that capturing CO2 directly from the air allows emissions originating from any source to be managed with standardized scalable industrial facilities.

CE’s full-scale design, could absorb the emissions created by 300,000 typical cars. Air capture can serve as a complement to climate strategies that reduce emissions at their source. It can remove far more CO2 per acre of land footprint than trees and plants and produce a stream of pure CO2 as its principal output for use in industrial applications or storage.

“Direct air capture gives us another option – to be used alongside others like wind power and energy efficiency – to help make deep cuts in our CO2 emissions and avoid dangerous climate change,” said Holmes.

Air capture plus fuel synthesis is potentially one of the few truly scalable ways to power transportation in a way that’s carbon-neutral.

CE’s air capture technology brings atmospheric air containing CO2 into contact with a chemical solution that naturally absorbs CO2, in a device called a contactor, which absorbs atmospheric CO2 to produce a liquid solution that is rich in CO2.

The regeneration process, involving several processing steps, produces a purified stream of CO2 and re-makes the original capture chemical. These two processes work together to enable continuous capture of CO2 from atmospheric air, with energy (and small amounts of make-up chemicals) as an input, and pure CO2 as an output. The stream of pure CO2 can be used in industrial applications and/or permanently sequestered underground.

“CE is currently in pilot demonstration phase, with a demo plant in Squamish BC under initial operations at current time,” Holmes added. “This plant will capture ~1 ton of CO2 per day to demonstrate and test CE’s design.”

Further information on CE’s Squamish demo plant, in British Columbia, can be found in the April update on the CE website, which also mentions the contributions of CE’s project partners. “CE has a number of industrial partners who provide equipment and expertise specific to various sub-systems within CE’s technology,” confirms Holmes.

CE Contactor

Holmes explained to Hacked that CE’s business plan centers on using atmospheric CO2, and renewable energy, to synthesize liquid fuels like gasoline or diesel. “This is another way – in addition to electric cars – that renewable energy could be used to power transportation, one of the toughest sectors to de-carbonize.”

CE is predominantly funded by private investors including Bill Gates. In an interview with The Financial Times, Gates mentioned his investment in CE and stated that he plans to double his personal investment in innovative green technologies to $2bn over the next five years in an attempt to “bend the curve” in the fight against climate change.

Holmes added that CE uses government grant programs when possible to leverage private investment. In reply to a question on the ntended applications of CE’s technology, Holmes said that the near-term is fuel synthesis, as described. “Longer term, the technology could also be used to capture CO2 and sequester it underground, to provide a verifiable off-set to sources of emissions that are too difficult or costly to control at point of release,” he added.

Images from Carbon Engineering.

Giulio Prisco is a freelance writer specialized in science, technology, business and future studies.