All of the human activities at the moment, collectively, each year put about 50 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide up into the atmosphere.
To some people, it seems like something that’s way down the road when the technology’s ready for us to use now. Climate change is a nasty thing, and it’s going to take all of human ingenuity to get us through this moment, but we need to look at is direct to their captors going to live up to its promise?
It’s much easier to keep a unit of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than it is to try and retrieve it once it’s already there. So when it comes to climate change, the best way to respond is to stop putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
In addition, scientists are suggesting the need to remove about 10 billion tons per year, which does have the ring of science fiction to it.
Two Types of Carbon Capture Strategies
Broadly speaking, there are two different categories of carbon removal strategies. One is a biological category, planting trees, changing farm practices. Or you can at the other end of the spectrum, imagine more technological or chemical-based strategies, something like direct air capture, which would have been off the table a few decades ago as kind of a wacky scheme by mad scientists now needs real consideration. But the economics and storage questions about whether carbon dioxide can actually be held over the long term. These are open questions.
So we’re a carbon capture company, we have a pilot facility that captures a ton of CO2 per day and we think we’re different because we’re focused on a very large scale.
There are different ways of attacking carbon capture, what we do is direct air capture, so we’re targeting the low concentration CO2 that’s in the atmosphere.
4 Steps to capturing CO2
Fundamentally, our process has four steps, each step concentrates the CO2 more. The first step is a big fan that pulls through, it reacts with chemicals and captures 80 percent of the CO2 out of the air.
We take that CO2 rich solution. We precipitate out solid calcium carbonate pellets.
We keep those very small pellets up and outcomes, the CO2, you can then do two things or that you can choose to permanently buried somewhere safely. Now you’ve reduced the overall level of CO2 and that’s covid negative or you can make products out of it. One of the things we do here in Squamish is we combine our CO2 with hydrogen and we make a fuel that’s essentially carbon neutral.
You put it in your car and drive your car, it combines the CO2 and it goes back into the atmosphere and that’s what carbon-neutral means. You’re not adding overall to the quantity of CO2 in the atmosphere.
If you think about a closed-loop system around and around, we go in time, though, there won’t be enough to address climate change because the carbon dioxide has to be put into storage to actually remove the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere system. Director capture at the moment is a reasonably expensive proposition, industries fielded at scale costs come down all the time.
That’s why as a company, we focused on a large scale and why we’re all so happy to license our technology to anybody in the world who wants to build these plants. We just announced our first Large-Scale plant in Texas. We’re actually expecting that will be a one megaton atmospheric CO2 plant. That’s the equivalent of 40 million trees in one plant. Our cost point is a little bit less than 200 dollars per ton for that first plant, but we expect the cost to come down a lot.
If carbon dioxide can be captured for 150 billion or less per tonne, then it becomes almost a commercially viable enterprise because that carbon dioxide could be put to a use that would enable the facility to pay for itself. But to scale it up would mean building lots and lots of these facilities and spreading them around the world.
You could eliminate the world’s emissions with 40000 of our plants. Sounds like a big number, but it’s actually less than there are power plants, for example, in the world.
Lots of grand promises have been made about carbon removal, and one of the jobs that have to be done now is to sort through the reality from the promise.
The goal is to use large scale carbon removal as a piece of humanity’s response, but if society kind of gets the notion that there’s a get out of jail free card, then that might have perverse impacts on climate response today. So the trick now is to work out what forms of carbon removal and what skills are going to make the best contribution and the most socially just contribution.
We think of ourselves as a really important tool that we have to have in the fight against climate change.
I don’t think it should be the only solution, but we need everything we can bring to the table.