Squamish-based Carbon Engineering developing cost-effective technology to remove carbon from atmosphere
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.
Carbon Capture Economics
It costs Climeworks about $600 US a tonne to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Carbon Engineering says it can do the job for between $94 US and $232 US 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.
Fuel to Power an Airplane
“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.”
Tesla is not standing still.
By: Mike Brown
Tesla is bringing power to Puerto Rico. The territory has been working to rebuild its energy infrastructure after a series of hurricanes last year, with Tesla’s solar energy efforts playing a big role in this recovery effort. On Sunday, CEO Elon Musk revealed the company is currently working on a staggering 11,000 projects in the area.
Puerto Rico has been working to restore power after Hurricane Maria destroyed much of its infrastructure last September, with CNN reporting in April that 51,000 people were left without power out of the population of 1.4 million. Governor Ricardo Rossello spoke to Musk over Twitter last October about restoring energy to the island through a combination of solar panels and batteries, thereby bypassing the broken energy grid infrastructure, and making energy restoration on the island a Tesla “flagship project.” In April, Tesla shared that the company has shipped more than 1,000 batteries to the island which are currently providing power in 662 locations.
Tesla got to work soon after the governor’s offer. In December, the company started work on six more battery projects in Puerto Rico to aid key community areas like the Susan Centeno hospital, the Boys and Girls Club of Vieques, the Arcadia water pump station, a sanitary sewer treatment plant, and the Ciudad Dorada elderly community. The packs, which linked up to existing solar arrays, reportedly held 550 kilowatt-hours of power each.
The statistics behind these projects are impressive. Twitter user Israel Melendez shared images of his setup in Manatí, which uses 55 standard 220-watt panels to form a 12-kilowatt array, paired with three Powerwall 2 batteries that store around 14 kilowatt-hours each. In one day his roof generated 68 kilowatt-hours, enough to send 42 kilowatt-hours of surplus energy back to the grid.
Tesla has big plans for collaborating with governments interested in a more solar-friendly energy future. The newly-elected South Australian government has confirmed plans to use Tesla Powerwalls to build the world’s largest “virtual power plant,” providing power for 50,000 homes to the wider grid.
The installations are getting more people interested in solar. In October, price comparison site EnergySage reported a dramatic jump in consumer interest from Texas, Louisiana, and Florida after hurricanes hit the states.
Rural Groveland, Florida may seem like an unlikely place for a technological boom. But sometimes looks can be deceiving.
Trilogy Orlando is a 55-and-older community where just about every home is powered by solar energy.
“Why not solar?” offered Jim Kennedy, who lives in the Trilogy development and says solar is a hit. “We have so many people that we talk to in the community, and every single one is just thrilled to death that they have solar.”
Mega builder Shea Homes created Trilogy in 2010, and company vice president Michael Fraley says it all started with the goal of creating value for their customers.
“If we were able to figure out a way to get to a place where we could generate enough electricity to offset the annual consumption of a homeowner, we really would be making a difference in people’s lives,” Fraley said.
On average, solar homeowners at Trilogy only pay an incredible $10 a month for electricity – savings that quickly adds up.
“If you figure a $200 average electric bill and I’m paying $10 a month, that’s $190 that goes to something else,” explained Brian Feeney, another homeowner.
Many homeowners produce so much power, they sell the surplus back to the electric company – a practice called net-metering.
“We actually get a credit back at the end of the year so it’s not even $10 a month,” Kennedy continued.
But as good as this may sound, there are problems in paradise. “How our system works is we’re tied into the grid and there needs to be an access to that grid so there is a fee associated with it,” Fraley said.
And the utility industry wants to raise that access fee for solar users to offset operating costs.
“Now, if their connection fee is $50 and you’re saving $100 or $150, and now all of a sudden it doesn’t make sense at that point,” Fraley continued.
But for now, homeowners enjoy a sun-powered life in this mini city. Still living on-the-grid and pocketing significant savings, but wondering how long it will last.
‘It would be cheaper than what we are doing now’
By: Joan Weeks
Experts in green energy heating are meeting with the Cape Breton Regional Municipality this week to discuss the potential for a district system for downtown Sydney, N.S.
“It would be cheaper than what we are doing now and is particularly beneficial to Sydney where there is no natural gas available,” said David Brushett, a manager with Efficiency Nova Scotia.
Efficiency Nova Scotia is partnering with CBRM, along with Enwave Energy Corporation, a North American leader in sustainable energy services.
Enwave generally operates in larger municipalities, said Brushett. “So it is very exciting and innovative.”
He said the cheaper heat would be great for revitalizing the downtown and encouraging future development.
Options include geothermal heat from water in the harbour, recovering heat from sewage and using bio-gas from the waste treatment plant to produce heat.
Brushett said an exchange system could recover heat from a sewage main near Centre 200. It could be used to heat water for buildings.
A similar system using underwater pipes could extract heat from the harbour. As well, bio-gas from the waste water treatment plant could be put to use.
Halifax Already Using Geothermal
There are already a number of buildings in Halifax using the harbour as a source of heat, including Purdy’s Wharf and Nova Scotia Power’s headquarters.
Brushett said a study will be completed by the end of the summer. At that point, Enwave will decide if it wants to build and operate a system.
“So the cost will be completely paid for by the private company,” he said.
Downtown building owners could then decide whether to convert their heating systems and buy from Enwave.