Canadian firm publishes details on Carbon dioxide to fuel pilot

A bottle of clean fuel made from carbon extracted from the air

Carbon Engineering have been running a pilot plant since 2015, and now harvest about a ton of carbon a day. And alchemists once hoped to turn lead and other base metals into gold. Scientists in a new study found a way to keep costs down and achieve the same goals in the future.

"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 decarbonize the transportation sector", says lead author David Keith, founder and chief scientist of Carbon Engineering, a Canadian CO2-capture and clean fuels enterprise, and a professor of applied physics and public policy at Harvard University.

This technology could be a way to clean the air by reusing the carbon dioxide from the air and not extracting it from the ground.

CE's direct air capture equipment.

Dr. Keith acknowledged that scaling up to a commercial-size plant can prove more costly than anticipated, but insisted the technology is largely proven. But Carbon Engineering's new method costs a fraction of that at $100 a ton of CO2, making the process much more economically feasible.

The paper's primary researcher was David Keith, Founder of CE. In 2015, Carbon Engineering launched its first pilot plant for capturing CO2 in British Columbia in Canada. It is already operating a pilot plant in Squamish, less than an hour's drive from Vancouver. There are two plants in Kansas that capture Carbon dioxide and transfer it via pipeline to oil fields where the oil is produced and the Carbon dioxide is stored in the process. The liquid goes through a series of steps that include freezing it into pellets and then transforming it into a slurry.

The pilot plant in Canada
Carbon Engineering The pilot plant in Canada

And new research released this week shows that the process carries a relatively low cost - far lower than initial estimates of USD$600 per ton to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

At least seven companies worldwide are working on the idea. He expects that Carbon Engineering will face higher costs and challenges than it anticipates as the company moves to build larger plants. It's now seeking additional funds to build a larger facility that will begin selling fuels, though still on a relatively small scale.

The plant draws in air, Carbon dioxide being scrubbed out and eventually combined with hydrogen to form a variety of different liquid fuels.

This can then be used one of two ways. And with oil prices surging in recent months, it might not have to worry about being able to compete with traditional sources. If that problem is not addressed, experts stress, the price tag could run into the trillions of dollars in terms of flooding, as oceans rise and the weather grows more volatile, losses in food production and other problems.

United Nations reports indicate that governments may have to deploy such novel technologies this century to remove carbon from nature and bury it to limit global warming under the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The bill also would create education initiatives and encourage inter-agency collaboration to advance these technologies. The crucial CO2-capturing chemical is recycled. Such fuels are more expensive than standard gasoline and diesel, so the size and stability of the market for them will depend largely on whether subsidies are in place.

In an interview with The Atlantic, Keith said he is now looking for additional funding to set up an industrial grade plant that could be up and running by 2021.

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