Think about the possibility of capturing the carbon dioxide from the air like trees do and turning that into green energy.
In 2014, carbon dioxide emissions from human activity accounted for about 81% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. We’ve all heard about technologies for capturing CO2 from industrial smokestacks and giant chimneys. The ominous photos of those smokestacks are most usually associated with articles dealing with climate change and the damage being done to the environment.
What most people don’t realize is that industry accounts for just 15% of CO2 emissions. According to the EPA, the biggest culprit is electricity generation at about 37% of total U.S. emissions, followed by transportation (planes, trains, automobiles and marine transportation). Pollution from the transport sector is the most rapidly increasing source of carbon dioxide pollution at about 31%. Having already been released into the atmosphere, it is 300 times less concentrated than those ugly dark clouds issuing from smokestacks and the most difficult to capture.
Enter Carbon Engineering, a privately owned company backed by Bill Gates in Squamish, British Columbia. The company has been working on the development of carbon capture technology to meet the problem of excessive carbon dioxide in the air. A prototype built at the University of Calgary has been in operation for several years and can absorb emissions from about 14-15 vehicles, which translates to about 100 kilos of carbon dioxide daily. Early this year, the company started the construction of a first of its kind air-capture CO2 demo plant and now they’re ready for large-scale implementation.
Just like trees, the air-capture technology grabs carbon dioxide from the air, but as the team at Carbon Engineering explains, “planting enough trees in the numbers needed would require diverting vast amounts of agriculturally productive land. In fact, to absorb enough CO2 as an air-capture facility, trees would require roughly a thousand times more land.” The air-capture facilities can be built anywhere – on non-arable land like deserts.
The air-capture plant will process the carbon dioxide and integrate it into the production of liquid hydrocarbons that are fully compatible with existing transport infrastructure. The fuel will have a low, or perhaps even zero, carbon intensity.
Construction of the demo plant is due to be completed by the end of this year. It’s the final step before Carbon Engineering builds a commercial air-capture facility to literally suck the carbon dioxide out of the air.
This is exciting stuff!