Pilot plant demonstrates low-priced conversion of Carbon dioxide into fuel


"Today, we're actively seeking partners who will work with CE to dramatically reduce emissions in the transportation sector and help us move to a carbon-neutral economy".

A new application of old technology may be the answer.

After conducting a full process analysis and crunching the numbers, Keith and his colleagues claim that realising direct air capture on an impactful scale will cost roughly Dollars 94-232 per tonne of carbon dioxide captured, which is on the low end of estimates that have ranged up to USD 1,000 per tonne in theoretical analyses.

The project was the brain-child of David Keith, a Harvard professor and founder of CE.

"The carbon dioxide generated via direct air capture can be combined with sequestration for carbon removal, or it can enable the production of carbon-neutral hydrocarbons, which is a way to take low-priced carbon-free power sources like solar or wind and channel them into fuels that can be used to decarbonize the transportation sector", says lead author David Keith, founder and chief scientist of Carbon Engineering, a Canadian CO2-capture and clean fuels enterprise, and a professor of applied physics and public policy at Harvard University.

The "direct air capture" process starts with common industrial cooling systems and a solution that draws carbon from the air, according to a paper published Thursday in the journal Joule.

Keith and Oldham are optimistic that they have reduced scale-up risks by implementing direct air capture at reasonable costs using standard industrial equipment. It works by pulling air into cooling towers, where it then comes into contact with a solution of potassium hydroxide, which reacts with the Carbon dioxide to make potassium carbonate.

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Centuries of unchecked human carbon emissions also mean that atmospheric carbon dioxide is a virtually unlimited feedstock for transformation into new fuels. "This paper provides that transparency".

"You can make gasoline or diesel fuel [via direct air capture] but, of course, they didn't come from the ground, so the amount of carbon they emit when they burn is just the amount you used making them, so they're carbon neutral", says Keith.

It has always been thought however that Carbon Engineering's methods just weren't financially viable. Since its components are off the rack, it should be easy to scale up, Oldham said. "That's the design choice we made".

Technological "fixes" to the carbon emissions driving climate change have always been regarded with some suspicion by scientists. "We look forward to working with Senator Bennet to secure passage of this important piece of the broader carbon capture technology agenda". The potassium carbonate is converted into a calcium carbonate pellet, which when heated yields CO2. "We now have the data and engineering to prove that DAC can achieve costs below $100 per ton".

"In a post-Paris Accords world, everyone has been talking about carbon removal but most of the analysis is secondary literature or policy perspectives", said Keith. And a spokesman for the firm said it can readily scale up using off-the-rack hardware, The downside is that the plant is now using some natural gas for power, but the goal is to switch to renewable electricity.

The new technology suggests a different path to cutting back the carbon dioxide in the air that is causing climate change.

In addition, the technology is location-independent, which should add to its allure, said Joe Lassiter, retired Senior Fellow and Senator John Heinz Professor of Management Practice in Environmental Management at the Harvard Business School.