As the call to limit the impact of global warming grows more urgent, a spate of new carbon capture companies offer a ray of hope in what can sometimes seem a gloomy outlook for Earth.
While the climate change battle, so far, has been predominantly focused on efforts to reduce our carbon footprint, emerging carbon capture technology offers new and alternative ways to limit the effects of global warming. They provide unique solutions that catch and sequester carbon dioxide (CO2) before it can enter the atmosphere, or even remove CO2 that’s already in the air.
Read more: What is carbon capture?
Sounds promising? It is! In fact, it’s become a catalyst for innovation that’s resulted in some incredible climate change solutions that capture, store, and utilize carbon in unique ways.
Some emerging technologies are ready to scale, while others have a long way to go before they make a significant impact
All of them offer exciting possibilities for decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and improving our chances of hitting the targets set by the Paris Agreement.
What are the challenges for carbon capture technology?
The companies developing these emerging technologies face hurdles along the path to long-term effectiveness and large-scale implementation. The challenges that may impact whether they become commercially viable include:
High cost of operations
The costs to develop and operate the new technologies can be extremely high which could possibly deter industries from adopting them. Without the necessary funding or the ability to reduce costs, ongoing research and development may be at risk over the long term.
Limited capacity of technology
Some technologies may be more limited than others in terms of the industries they impact, the ease with which they operate, their long-term effectiveness, and the potential scale of carbon capture. Those with more limited capacity may not endure.
Uncertain long-term impact on the environment
While the goal to reduce carbon from entering the atmosphere is good for the environment, other impacts on the Earth may be uncertain in some emerging carbon capture technologies, and may need to be addressed more fully before being approved for large-scale commercial use.
Six emerging carbon capture technologies in 2022
The carbon capture technology companies featured have come up with remarkable ways to reduce the amount of CO2 emitted by industries, eliminate carbon that’s already present in the air, and utilize captured carbon.
Capturing carbon from the air
1. Direct air capture with balloons: High Hopes
Direct air capture (DAC) is a process that removes CO2 that’s already present in the atmosphere. It’s an energy-intensive process that includes capturing, heating, and compressing carbon and, as a result, is expensive to operate. One company, High Hopes, is pursuing a unique take on DAC that relies on balloons.
These aren’t your conventional birthday balloons. Massive high-altitude balloons are outfitted with carbon capture rigs and sent 10 to 15 km above sea level where temperatures are low enough to freeze the carbon dioxide.
Frozen CO2 transforms into dry ice, which is easy to capture. As the captured carbon lowers to the Earth’s surface, it reverts back to gas and pressurizes itself inside restricted-size tanks, making it ready for sequestration.
While the DAC process is not new, the use of altitude is, and extracting carbon in this way is much less costly than other DAC processes currently in use.
The technology is not yet available for commercial use, and time will tell if capturing carbon in balloons will take off.
2. Food production up in the air: Solar Foods
It’s no secret that feeding our appetite for protein-rich foods, like beef, requires a tremendous amount of land. But there’s an environmental cost to all those char-broiled burgers and steaks–the world’s agri-food systems account for about 30 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, with deforestation as the leading source followed by livestock manure. But sourcing food without using land is as likely as creating a meal out of thin air.
Sounds impossible right? Well, we might be able to think again.
Solar Foods has learned how. The company creates a protein powder called Solein that originates from a single microbe found in nature that’s mixed with air and electricity. Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen are captured from air and used to grow the microbes naturally through the process of fermentation.
What results is a thick liquid that is processed into a protein powder that can be added to a variety of foods to enrich them with protein, fat, dietary fibre, and nutrients. A similar process is used by emerging tech company, Air Protein, as well, and both have the potential to disrupt the food industry.
3. Using carbon to fuel airplanes: Carbon Engineering
Carbon Engineering is a company that captures CO2 from atmospheric air then converts it to jet fuel. It’s an exciting prospect for the air transport industry which contributes about 2.5 per cent of GHG emissions per year. However, unlike carbon that’s stored in formations such as rock or cement, and permanently stored, the gas captured by Carbon Engineering (and turned into fuel) is released back into the atmosphere when the fuel is burned. In essence, this captured CO2 is recycled.
Capturing carbon in the ocean
4. Amplifying the ocean’s carbon sink capacity: Running Tide
The ocean is one of the Earth’s most essential carbon sinks, absorbing more than 25 per cent of the CO2 emitted into the atmosphere by humans. The startup company, Running Tide, wants to harness the ocean’s natural capacity to absorb carbon with its emerging technology.
It places micro forests just below the ocean’s surface that are made up of macroalgae, like kelp. As the mini forests grow, they absorb carbon and, once their growth peaks, sink to the ocean floor to become buried in sediment or eaten by marine life. The technology is still being tested and faces a number of hurdles, including assurances that its long term effect will not impact ecosystems as the technology scales up.
Unique storage of captured carbon
5. Adding carbon to soap: CleanO2
While many of us may wish we could sweep away our climate worries, there is one company that’s created a way to wash your hands of carbon—literally. Canadian company, CleanO2, makes bars of soap using the carbon captured with the CarbinX™ device the founders invented. CarbinX units are installed in buildings that use natural gas heating systems to capture carbon at the source, and then transform it into pearl ash (potassium carbonate).
The non-toxic pearl ash is added to formulations to create high quality soaps in a variety of scents for hands, face, and body. Simply lather up and watch carbon go down the drain.
Read more: Our interview with the co-founder of CleanO2
6. Storing carbon in cement: Svante
It’s one of those things we tend to never think about, but cement is integral to all our lives–from highways to homes to hospitals. As the backbone to our infrastructure, the cement industry accounts for about eight per cent of the world’s CO2 emissions. Interestingly, it also provides an effective means for storing captured carbon.
Canadian company, Svante, has developed the technology to capture large-scale CO2 emissions from cement facilities, like the Lafarge cement plant in Richmond, BC, that can be then injected into concrete as a permanent storage solution.
Innovation is key to tackling climate change
The emergence of remarkable technologies that capture and utilize carbon and deploy is promising. While some carbon capture technologies have a long way to go before making an impact (and others may never be commercially viable), every solution carries tremendous potential for fighting climate change.
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