carbon capture

Carbon capture breakthrough produces cheap clean fuel, slows climate change

Image credit: carbon engineering

Capturing CO2 from the atmosphere can now be achieved for less than $100 per ton (£75), a price point that is both scalable and cost-effective, according to new research.

In a peer-reviewed paper, Canadian company Carbon Engineering (CE) claims a breakthrough in the technology which could help to alleviate some of the worst effects of climate change.

The company outlined the design of a large industrial plant that it said could capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at a cost of between $94 and $232 a tonne.

That is well below past estimates of about $600 a tonne by the American Physical Society, said David Keith, a Harvard University physics professor and the founder of CE, who led the research.

“I hope to show that this as a viable energy industrial technology, not something that is a magic bullet ... but something that is completely doable,” he said.

The process, which uses water electrolysis, also creates clean liquid hydrocarbon fuels that are compatible with existing transportation infrastructure.

CE, which has about 40 employees, currently produces about a tonne of carbon dioxide a day from its experimental plant. The technology makes synthetic fuels using only air, water and renewable power.

Keith said an industrial-scale plant could make fuel at a dollar a litre. That would be competitive in California, where low carbon fuel standards to cut pollution from cars and trucks mean high prices.

He said some investors were interested. An industrial plant, costing hundreds of millions of dollars, could capture a million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, equivalent to emissions by 250,000 cars.

Other experts welcomed the study as a step to clear up huge uncertainties about the costs of “direct air capture”.

“CE’s vision is to reduce the effects of climate change by first cutting emissions, then by reducing atmospheric CO₂,” says Steve Oldham, CEO of CE. “Our clean fuel is fully compatible with existing engines, so it provides the transportation sector with a solution for significantly reducing emissions, either through blending or direct use. Our technology is scalable, flexible and demonstrated.

UN 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.

“Direct air capture is a politically promising route for carbon dioxide removal,” said Oliver Geden, of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

Air capture plants can also be built almost anywhere thereby not threatening farmland, unlike options of planting vast forests which soak up carbon dioxide, he said.

In April 2018, a Japanese carbon capture facility claimed it had cut its energy costs by as much as two thirds compared to similar plants. 

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