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

École North Oyster wins $100K BCAA PlayHere prize for accessible playground

École North Oyster Elementary is being awarded $100,000 to put towards a… Continue reading

Summer Games equipment funding will have lasting impact

Cowichan 2018 will get money for rowing, swimming, triathlon and wrestling equipment

Stz’uminus First Nation launches mental health campaign on Indigenous Peoples Day

Stz’uminus First Nation put the issue of mental health at the forefront… Continue reading

115 new wildfires burning across B.C. due to 19,000 lightning strikes

More fires expected to start today, says BC Wildfire Service officials

Ladysmith youth take to field Victoria HarbourCats

Ladysmith’s boys and girls of summer took to the field with a… Continue reading

VIDEO: Trades jobs the way of the future on Vancouver Island?

Hundreds of people attend Black Press Career Fair in Nanaimo

Rescued Oregon family simply unprepared for adventure, RCMP say

Agencies now helping the group of four get to their destination in Alaska

Large B.C. tree dies after possible poisoning

Police and District investigate after large chestnut tree’s rapid decline

Canucks release 2018-19 season schedule

Vancouver to face Calgary Flames on Wednesday, Oct. 3, for home opener

VIDEO: Luxury Home and Design Show opens with Italian flare

Event set to run Friday to Sunday at BC Place in Vancouver

Small new charge on BC Hydro bills goes toward new crisis fund

The new fund aims to help customers who find themselves in financial emergencies

UPDATED: Crown appeals B.C. polygamous leader’s acquittal in child bride case

James Oler had been charged with taking his underage daughter to the U.S. to marry her off

Fake cops ‘arrest’ woman, steal $6,000 in latest CRA scam

Vancouver police urge people not take calls from anyone saying they’re from the Canada Revenue Agency

Study shows increase in mountain bike tourism in B.C.

Numbers are up, way up, for bike-related visits to the province

Most Read