Sunday, 17 June, 2018

Scientists Take A Massive Step Forward In Converting Air Into Fuel

Maybe we can afford to suck CO2 out of the sky after all B.C. start-up says it can slash carbon-capture costs, replace gasoline at competitive price
Theresa Hayes | 10 June, 2018, 19:56

Until now, the costs of Carbon dioxide removal, or what's known as "direct air capture", were believed to be at least $600 per ton.

"After 100 person-years of practical engineering and cost analysis, we can confidently say that while air capture is not some magical cheap solution, it is a viable and buildable technology for producing carbon-neutral fuels in the immediate future and for removing carbon in the long run", Keith concluded. Previous attempts to accomplish this priced the feat at around $600 per ton, the BBC reported. Once that's done, heating and a bunch of other chemical reactions are used to re-extract the gas and employ it as a carbon source for the generation of valuable fuels such as gasoline, diesel or jet fuel.

Those numbers are "real progress", says Chris Field, a climate scientist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. It started converting carbon dioxide into fuels past year. The facing climate and air pollution costs reaching at least $360 billion annually, according to a 2017 report. "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".

There are plenty of hurdles to overcome before we can see any benefit from this technology. When the air-capture plant is optimized for fuel production, they were able to bring costs down to as low as $94 per tonne of CO2. Once purified, the captured Carbon dioxide can be injected underground or used to make commercial products, such as fuels or plastics.

In 2011, the American Physical Society published a research showing that the costs to remove Carbon dioxide from the air would be $600.

David Keith, the Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, thinks it can be done for a lot less.

Keith is also the founder of Carbon Engineering, a Calgary-based startup that has spent the last nine years designing, refining, and testing a direct air capture pilot plant in Squamish, British Columbia. When heated, the pellet releases the Carbon dioxide that can then be pressurized and pumped underground.

And an air capture plant could be built nearly anywhere. Swiss-based Climeworks has already built a commercial-scale plant. "The question is, what do we do with all this excess CO2 in the atmosphere?" said Noah Deich, executive director and co-founder of the nonprofit Center for Carbon Removal. A renewable energy-powered electrolyzer first splits water into hydrogen (H2) and oxygen.

The Carbon Engineering facility is far smaller than the Climeworks operations, now removing just one metric ton, or 2,200 pounds, of CO2 from the atmosphere each day.

"It's very tough, and even tougher if the Carbon dioxide is from your most expensive source, which is the air", he says.

The startup uses Carbon Engineering (CE), which are banks of fans that get air to capture carbon dioxide.

"Until you really can confirm the costs and performance at scale, you've always got to take those costs with a grain of salt", he says. Some argue it may be the only way to meet the Paris climate accord's goal of holding the increase in the average global temperature "well below" 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.