Earlier this year (2105), the Carbon XPRIZE was announced. Taking a hint on how a successful XPRIZE’s impact a market from the Ansari XPRIZE for space travel, in 2017 we can expect to see more carbon capture companies venturing into the CO2 marketplace. By utilizing the CO2, rather than storing it, we can begin to replace feedstocks traditionally sourced from petroleum. Evolving from a fossil fuel economy to a carbon neutral, or even carbon negative economy, will take time, investment, and innovation. One of the essential first steps is figuring out how to capture CO2 from air.
Since the Carbon XPRIZE has focused on capturing CO2 from power plant
flue gas, we would like to take a look at ambient air capture. As Global Thermostat’s CTO, Dr. Peter Eisenberger notes “coupling to power plants will only reduce CO2 emissions by two fold”. He emphasizes that we need to reduce the levels of CO2 currently in the atmosphere, as well as dramatically reducing any future emissions. Both Eisenberger and GT’s CEO Dr. Graciela Chichilnisky insist on the essential role of direct air capture and the successful monetization of CO2 in truly solving this global problem. And they should know, Global Thermostat was recently featured by Forbes & KPMG in the series “The Great ReWrite”. With no governmental grants, Global Thermostat has been able to operate and expand by thinking about CO2 as a potential feedstock and helping companies increase their profits by utilizing CO2 captured on site.
Global Thermostat’s technology is unique in that, its main requirement for operation is small amounts of heat, often sourced from local waste streams. A great example is their Menlo Park, CA plant, which has been operating in their corner of Silicon Valley for 6 years this October, and uses the residual heat from a neighboring solar farm to drive their entire process, in a completely closed system with heat, energy, and mass balances. In 2013, GT doubled the capacity of their California plant and are now able to capture 2.7-14 tonnes of CO2 per day, depending on their operating mode. GT’s technology has an additional advantage in that they can capture CO2 in either direct air capture mode OR through flue gas processing. Their Menlo Park, CA plant, captures 2.7 tonnes of CO2 per day in direct air capture mode, but when paired with the SRI International’s CoGen plant (natural gas) across the street their system captures around 13.7 tonnes of CO2 per day.
Eisenberger emphasizes that Global Thermostat’s “…technology can be deployed in areas where waste heat from photovoltaic arrays, or even geothermal heat, can be harness to meet the energy required to operate a GT direct air capture system”. With the minimal operating requirements of GT’s system, they have achieved an impressive penetration into several markets including: industrial gases, plastics, greenhouses, building materials, fuels, biofertilizers, and the food/beverage market. With the ability to essentially “build-to-suit”, Global Thermostat can supply units to meet any demand for CO2.
Global Thermostat isn’t the only company who has found success with ambient air CO2 capture. Climeworks, in Zurich Switzerland, made news in 2015 with their participation in the Audi/Sunfire collaboration that resulted in renewably generated synthetic crude oil. You may remember reading about the Audi/Sunfire collaboration in our piece “3 technologies moving us toward a solar fuel.”
Since then, Climeworks has been expanding their reach in the CO2 utilization arena with 3 EU projects coming on line this year, all focused on “Power-to-X” technologies. Two of the three projects are affiliated with the EU’s Horizon 2020 program, Store&Go & CELBICON. The third project Climeworks is participating in is Kopernikus, a German project directed at converting CO2 to fuel with the assistance of renewable energy. Climeworks’ role in all three projects is to provide high purity CO2 from direct air capture for use in processes that yield high-value products. The timeline for these three projects is 24-48 months and the funding ranges from €6-30 million. Climeworks’ product line easily lends itself to a range of CO2 capture scenarios, with lab scale systems capable of capturing and purifying 8 kg of CO2 per day to large modular units capable of capture and purification of 35 kg of CO2 per hour per unit (840 kg CO2 per day). The large units can be assembled together to customize the mount of CO2 captured.
Both Global Thermostat, Climeworks can readily accommodate established facilities CO2 capture demands. Allowing companies to upgrade their infrastructure to source CO2 onsite and reduce cost for feedstock materials, with minimal down time. As society moves to demand carbon neutral and carbon negative products, building new facilities with fully integrated CO2 capture and processing will become the norm. Carbon Engineering has been operating a stand-alone direct air capture pilot plant in Squamish British Columbia for nearly a year.
After a traditional blessing from members of Squamish First Nations, Carbon Engineering officially commenced operation on October 9th, 2015. Carbon Engineering’s unique process of CO2 capture lends itself to a stand-alone plant dedicated to direct air capture. Extracting CO2 via air contact with an alkaline solution and subsequent precipitation, Carbon Engineering has leveraged the technology and innovation other industries to build a novel plant dedicated to capturing CO2 directly from the air. A video on Carbon Engineering’s website gives a great overview of their plant’s processes and technology. The Squamish BC plant is able to capture 1-1.5 tonnes of CO2 per day. Next steps for Carbon Engineering involve developing an add-on system that can react the CO2 captured at their plant with renewably generated hydrogen to make hydrocarbon fuels for heavy transportation, like freight and flight.
The success of the Carbon XPRIZE and the efforts of Climeworks, Global Thermostat, and Carbon Engineering will lift the entire CO2 capture & utilization arena. Monetizing CO2 and enabling industry and the market to drive this energy evolution is an essential step in making rapid progress on reducing CO2 levels and converting to a carbon neutral, or carbon negative, society.