Frequently Asked Questions

About Carbon Engineering

Why do we need to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere?

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 remove billions of tons of excess carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.

There are a number of forms of carbon removal and Direct Air Capture is one of the technological tools that can be used for this purpose. When combined with secure geological storage of CO2, Direct Air Capture offers a way to remove vast quantities of excess CO2 from the air and store it safely and permanently, all with very low land and water use. In the near term, carbon removal 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.

I’d love to see your pilot plant. Can I come for a tour?

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.

I think the work CE is doing is important and I’d like to support your mission. How can I help or get involved?

Thank you for visiting our website and for your support of our mission and carbon removal technology! You can help us by spreading the word with your community, sharing our stories, and following our progress on our LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook pages.

You can also voice your support for climate change solutions like ours by adding your name to our supporter list here.

What is Carbon Engineering’s chosen path to commercialization?

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 Direct Air Capture facility. As the industry leaders in safe and permanent geological storage of CO2, we believe they are perfectly suited to help us scale our Direct Air Capture technology and develop the capability to permanently store vast quantities of atmospheric CO2 underground.

With our partner 1PointFive, a development company formed by Oxy Low Carbon Ventures and Rusheen Capital Management, we are engineering the largest Direct Air Capture plant in the world – a facility that will capture up to one million tons of CO2 directly from the atmosphere each year and permanently store it underground. Learn more about this partnership and plant here. It’s our goal to have this first large-scale plant ignite an industry and demonstrate that our technology is feasible, affordable, and scalable.

Direct Air Capture Technology

How much CO2 can you capture at your pilot plant?

Our Direct Air Capture 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.

How much CO2 will one of your large plants capture?

Our large Direct Air Capture 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.

Does CE’s technology capture CO2 from a flue stack?

Capturing CO2 from a flue stack, known as carbon capture, attempts to prevent new emissions from 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 excess 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, Direct Air Capture technology gives us a tool to achieve large-scale carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere.

Where can I access detailed information about your process and engineering?

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.

What energy is used to power CE’s Direct Air Capture technology?

CE’s Direct Air Capture 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.

Carbon Engineering 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.

What do you mean when you say Carbon Engineering’s plants are emissions free?

CE’s Direct Air Capture 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.

Will you build CE’s plants near big, populated cities where there is more pollution?

This is a good question and one we get asked often. Carbon dioxide is fairly evenly distributed 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. Direct Air Capture 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.

How much land does one of CE’s large, commercial plants occupy?

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.

How does your Direct Air Capture technology compare to the work trees perform in absorbing CO2?

Our Direct Air Capture 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 similar to how trees absorb CO2 for photosynthesis. However, our carbon removal 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.

Maintaining healthy forests and ecosystems, and restoring those that have been damaged, is important for many reasons. But to fully tackle the carbon problem, we’ll also need technologies like Direct Air Capture that can capture large quantities of CO2 with minimal land and water use, and also return it to permanent geological storage, rather than trapping it in biomass. Using a variety of strategies will maximize their collective impact.

Uses of CE’s Technology

Where can I buy Carbon Engineering’s fuel?

Carbon Engineering’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 and show support for climate change solutions like ours, please sign up for our newsletter by joining our supporter list, or follow us on social media.

What does it mean when you say your fuel has an ultra-low carbon intensity?

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 Direct Air Capture 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.

How does geological storage of carbon dioxide work?

Geological storage of CO2 begins with compressing the captured CO2 into a fluid almost as dense as water. This compressed liquid CO2 can then be injected deep underground into a geological reservoir through a secure and highly engineered well. At the top of the geological formation is a cap rock, an impermeable rock layer that acts as a permanent barrier so the CO2 cannot return to the surface.

Over time, the CO2 will interact with the water and rock within the reservoir, becoming trapped there through the following processes:

Solution Trapping: CO2 dissolves into saline water in the reservoir, becoming a part of the reservoir fluids trapped under the cap rock.

Residual Trapping: CO2 is trapped in the millimetre-sized voids, or pore spaces.

Mineral Trapping: CO2 interacts with the reservoir rocks to form new minerals, permanently trapping the CO2 in the rock

(Source: Global CCS Institute)

Learn more about how geological storage works in this overview video.

Is geological storage of carbon dioxide safe?

Geological storage, also known as carbon sequestration, is a logical, safe and reliable form of storing CO2 deep underground. It is a well-established practice that is highly engineered and strictly regulated, and has been in safe, commercial operation for decades. We’ve partnered with Occidental for our first commercial Direct Air Capture and sequestration project because they are the industry leaders in safe injection and management of CO2.

When Direct Air Capture and geological storage are combined, the process removes excess carbon dioxide from air and safely stores it deep underground. This provides a way to remove large-scale quantities of carbon from the atmosphere, which can add to clean energy and emissions reductions to accelerate the return to a healthy balance of carbon dioxide in the air.

You can learn more about geological storage in this IPCC report and in the US Department of Energy’s Carbon Storage Atlas – Fifth Edition.

How does enhanced oil recovery fit into Carbon Engineering’s business plans and its environmental mission?

Enhanced oil recovery 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 enhanced oil recovery is removed from the atmosphere using CE’s Direct Air Capture technology, it dramatically reduces the overall carbon footprint of the crude produced. In many cases, we expect that enhanced oil recovery can produce carbon neutral crude.

We therefore see that enhanced oil recovery 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 enhanced oil recovery as one tool that can accelerate decarbonization while alternative solutions to fossil fuel are developed and implemented worldwide.

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