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 dioxide removal and Direct Air Capture is one of the technological tools that can be used for this purpose. When combined with secure geologic 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 can help bring global emissions down to net zero, by providing a tool to address difficult-to-decarbonize sectors, such as aviation. In the future, once deep emissions cuts have been made, carbon removal may 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 video explainer by World Resources Institute.


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

At this time, we do not offer tours of our facilities to the public. Please check out this video to learn more about what we do and see our plants 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. 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.

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 the large, commercial plants that use CE’s technology capture?

Commercial Direct Air Capture plants that utilize our technology can be scaled to size depending on customer needs, however their economics are most favourable at large, industrial scales. The first commercial plant to utilize our technology is expected to capture one million tons of CO2 annually when complete, which is equivalent to the carbon removal work of approximately 40 million trees.


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.

 


What do you mean when you say plants using CE’s technology are emissions free?

Facilities using CE’s Direct Air Capture technology 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 DAC plants be built 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 deploy plants in locations where there is access to abundant, low cost local energy to power the technology, or in locations where there is appropriate geologic storage capacity or 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 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 produced there is used in our R&D and optimization efforts.

 


What does it mean when you say your fuel has a low carbon intensity?

Our AIR TO FUELSTM process produces fuels that have a low carbon intensity, which means that throughout the whole lifecycle of this fuel, from production through to its use in a vehicle, it will add only a very minor amount of carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Our process achieves this by reusing carbon dioxide captured from the atmosphere.

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 emitted.


How does geologic storage of carbon dioxide work?

Geologic 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 geologic storage works in this overview video.


Is geologic storage of carbon dioxide safe?

Geologic storage, also known as carbon sequestration, is a 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 commercial Direct Air Capture and sequestration projects because they are the industry leaders in safe injection and management of CO2.

You can learn more about geologic 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 injecting CO2 into oil reservoirs to produce additional crude from existing wells. It’s extensively used in several crude producing regions such as the Permian Basin in Texas.

Historically, enhanced oil recovery has not been performed to achieve environmental benefits. However, when the CO2 used has been removed from the atmosphere using Direct Air Capture technology, it dramatically reduces the overall carbon footprint of the crude produced. When performed this way, the process essentially takes carbon from the atmosphere and puts it back underground where it came from originally, offsetting the carbon contained in the resulting oil. If the amount of CO2 injected and stored is equal to the amount produced when the oil is refined and used, the full process is carbon neutral. If more CO2 is injected than what is produced, the process can produce fuels for transportation while also generating net negative emissions.

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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