To meet global commitments and avoid the worst impacts of climate change, it’s imperative we reduce the carbon emissions we add to the atmosphere each day. But, the science now shows that emissions reductions alone will not be enough to limit global warming to 1.5°C. We must also physically remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
There are a number of forms of carbon removal, and Direct Air Capture (DAC) with geological storage is one of the technological tools that can be used for this purpose. In the near term, carbon removal solutions like DAC will help us bring global emissions down to zero much faster. In the future, once deep emissions cuts have been made, carbon removal will likely be needed to bring the overall level of CO2 in our atmosphere back down to levels deemed safe by scientists.
To learn more about the different types of carbon removal and why it’s a necessary part of climate mitigation, check out this great video explainer by World Resources Institute.
At this time, we do not offer tours of our pilot plant to the public. Please check out this video to learn more about what we do and see our pilot plant in action.
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Our pilot plant in Squamish, B.C., was designed and built as a proof of concept and testing facility. When operating, the pilot plant captures one ton of CO2 per day.
Our large plants can be scaled to size, depending on customer needs, but our technology has been designed to achieve large, industrial scale so they can have the biggest impact on the climate challenge. Our first commercial plants will capture one million tons of CO2 per year each, which is equivalent to the work of 40 million trees, or the annual emissions of 250,000 average cars.
Capturing CO2 from a flue stack provides a tool to reduce emissions as they are being released into the atmosphere. It is a different, but complementary, technology to our Direct Air Capture solution that captures CO2 straight out of the air around us.
Climate scientists agree that we must aggressively reduce the emissions we release each day, and carbon capture from a flue stack is one of the available solutions to help us achieve this. But, we must also remove existing carbon from the atmosphere that was emitted in the past and remains trapped in our atmosphere. This is where our Direct Air Capture technology can be useful. By capturing CO2 directly from the air in any location, DAC technology gives us a tool to achieve large-scale carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere.
In 2018, Carbon Engineering published a full Direct Air Capture technology description and cost assessment in scientific journal, Joule. This peer-reviewed research was led by our founder, David Keith, and was based on data from CE’s pilot plant. You can find the paper here.
CE’s DAC process can use a flexible combination of renewable electricity and natural gas to power the system. When natural gas is used, the CO2 from combustion is not released, but is instead captured and delivered along with the CO2 captured from air. Our technology is also capable of reducing or completely eliminating the use of natural gas, instead relying on clean electricity as the sole energy source. This flexibility allows us to use natural gas, renewable electricity, or mixtures of both to achieve the lowest energy cost at each facility while also avoiding the creation of new emissions.
CE does not plan to use fossil fuel such as coal to power its plants as their use would produce a significant carbon footprint that would greatly reduce the environmental benefit of atmospheric CO2 capture.
CE’s DAC plants are emissions free because our technology is designed to capture the CO2 from any natural gas used in powering the system. This means, any emissions that would have been created from natural gas usage are captured and delivered with the atmospheric CO2 we captured from the air, and both streams are then used or buried permanently underground.
This is a good question and one we get asked often. Carbon dioxide is actually distributed evenly around the world and is not more concentrated in large cities. This means we can build plants in locations where there is access to abundant, low cost local energy to power the technology, or in locations where there is a high demand for CO2. DAC has the added advantage of being able to use non-arable land, so our facilities can be built on land that is unsuitable for farming or agriculture.
Our DAC technology can be scaled up while maintaining a small physical footprint compared to other forms of carbon removal. A DAC plant capable of capturing one million tons of CO2 per year would require an estimated 150-300 acres of land. An AIR TO FUELSTM plant capable of producing 2,000 barrels of fuel per day, would sit on approximately 30 acres of land.
Our DAC technology pulls in atmospheric air, and through a series of chemical reactions, extracts the CO2 from it while returning the rest of the air to the atmosphere. This is essentially how trees absorb CO2 for photosynthesis. However, our DAC technology performs the process much faster, with a smaller land footprint, and delivers the carbon in a pure, compressed CO2 form that can then be stored permanently underground.
At CE, we believe the world should progress both natural and technological carbon removal strategies, including afforestation and reforestation. Using a variety of strategies will maximize their collective impact.
CE’s fuel is not currently available for purchase by the public. Our pilot plant in Squamish, B.C., was designed as a proof of concept and testing facility and all the fuel we produce there is used in our R&D and optimization efforts.
We are investigating opportunities to build commercial AIR TO FUELSTM plants in a number of locations, including Canada, Europe and the US. To receive updates on our progress, please sign up for our newsletter by joining our supporter list, or follow us on social media.
Our AIR TO FUELSTM process produces fuels that have an ultra-low carbon intensity, or are fully carbon neutral. This means that throughout the whole lifecycle of this fuel, from production through to its use in a vehicle, it will add only a very small amount of carbon emissions to the atmosphere (or it will add none at all). We do this by continually reusing the carbon dioxide we capture from the air.
Our DAC technology captures yesterday’s emitted CO2 and reuses it by converting it into fuel. When the fuel is used to power a vehicle, the carbon is returned to the atmosphere as CO2, however, the process then captures it again to make more fuel. This means our AIR TO FUELSTM process creates a circular system of emissions, or a “closed carbon cycle”, and little or no new CO2 is created.
Our focus has always been on developing and commercializing technologies that can reach large, climate-relevant scales and therefore have the biggest impact on the climate challenge. To help us take the step from pilot scale to large, industrial deployment, we’ve chosen to develop strategic partnerships with leading energy companies who have the expertise to help us achieve this. That’s why we’ve partnered with Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, LLC, a subsidiary of Occidental, for our first commercial DAC facility. As the industry leaders in safe and permanent geological storage of CO2, we believe they are perfectly suited to help us scale our DAC technology and develop the capability to permanently store large quantities of atmospheric CO2 underground.
Together, we are engineering the largest DAC plant in the world – a facility that will capture an expected one million tons of CO2 directly from the atmosphere each year and permanently store it underground. Learn more about this plant here and here. It’s our goal to have this first plant ignite an industry and demonstrate that our technology is workable, affordable, and scalable.
Geological storage, also known as sequestration, is a logical, safe and reliable form of storing CO2 underground. It is highly engineered and strictly regulated. International bodies have studied this practice and concluded that when done properly, the risks are minimal and the CO2 can be stored for up to millions of years. We’ve partnered with Occidental for our first commercial DAC-sequestration project because they are the industry leaders in safe geological storage of CO2.
Another way to look at this is that the underground rock formations that trapped oil and gas for the millions of years they require to form, make an ideal location to store CO2 permanently. This effectively puts the CO2 back where it came from in a similar liquid form.
You can learn more about geological storage in this IPCC report.
Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) is the process of using CO2 to produce additional crude from existing wells. It’s extensively used in several crude producing regions such as the Permian Basin in Texas.
When the CO2 used for EOR is removed from the atmosphere using CE’s technology, it dramatically reduces the overall carbon footprint of the crude produced. In many cases, we expect that EOR can produce carbon neutral crude.
We therefore see that EOR using atmospheric CO2 can greatly reduce the carbon intensity of the crude that it produces. As the planet seeks ways to decarbonize while transitioning away from fossil fuels over time, we see atmospheric CO2-based EOR as one tool that can accelerate decarbonization while alternative solutions to fossil fuel are developed and implemented worldwide.