Carbon Engineering’s plant in Squamish currently pulls about one tonne of carbon a day from the air and produces about two barrels of fuel. (Canadian Press)

Looking to the sky: B.C. company sucks carbon from air to make fuel

Carbon Engineering removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through a chemical process, adds hydrogen and oxygen to create fuel

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.

It costs Climeworks about US$600 a tonne to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Carbon Engineering says it can do the job for between US$94 and US$232 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.

“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.”

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Two 23-year-old men die in separate Surrey motorcycle crashes in three days

One man died Thursday night after his motorcycle crashed on Highway 10, and another man died following a Tuesday crash

Take-home naloxone may be replacing 911 calls in Fraser Health area

Naloxone kits handed out up 29% over 2017, ambulance calls and emergency visits down 22-24%, deaths hold steady

334 brush and grass fires in Surrey since May 1

Surrey Fire Service says so far this month, there’s been at least 60

Renegades ‘02 undefeated through two days at softball nationals

White Rock ‘04 and ‘05 squads also at Canadian championships in Montreal

White Rock firefighters aid wildfire effort

Seaside department has sent three firefighters and one apparatus so far, with more set to deploy

Happy birthday Boler: An anniversary gathering of the cutest campers in Winnipeg

Hundreds of the unique trailers in Winnipeg to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Manitoba invention

Tim Hortons says its China expansion will include menu with congee, matcha

Coffee chain plans to open 1,500 stores in Asia over the next decade

How to help B.C. wildfire victims

Donations being taken by many organizations, BC Hydro waiving bills

5 to start your day

Mt. Hicks fire near Agassiz 15% contained, man dead in Surrey motorcycle incident and more

Whole city of Kimberley on an evacuation alert due to wildfires

Residents woke up Friday morning being told to get ready to leave any moment

Feds to allow charities to engage in political, but not partisan, activity

The plan is to allow charities to pursue political activities

Trump suggests Canada has been sidelined from latest NAFTA negotiations

Canadian officials have insisted they’re unfazed by being left out of the discussions

B.C. judge who cried during a victim statement to rule on recusing herself

The judge will decide if she’ll disqualify herself from sentencing a man for sexual assault

Photographer files complaint with police after alleged assault on the job

Toronto photographer says he was attacked while covering a protest

Most Read