These Companies Are Converting CO2 Emissions Into Something Useful

Carbon capture devices

Direct Air Capture technology is set to be the next big thing in green technology. At the moment it is a small industry but it is growing. Large-scale carbon management has the potential to greatly help achieve climate stability. It can do so by converting CO2 into useful products or by diverting it safely underground.

This means that a new carbon economy where CO2 is used to manufacture products using clean energy is on the rise. A few impressive companies are ushering in this era of turning Co2 emissions into something useful, and by doing so they are paving the way for this technology to become mainstream.

“These companies and technologies are essentially where batteries were 10 years ago and where solar was 20 years ago. The investment community can smell that. They get that this is the next thing,” Julio Friedmann, a senior research scholar at the Center for Global Energy Policy at Columbia University and former Obama administration official told Fast Company.

The release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere due to human activity is driving climate change and thus causing global warming. It is crucial we not only minimize emissions but also use or remove what has and is already being emitted. Renewable energy and energy efficiency measures alone are not enough.

The important thing is to keep the increase in the global average temperature to “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial levels, in order to significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change on the planet. To meet this critical 2°C target goal, as set by the 2016 Paris Agreement, additional CO2 removal (negative emissions) from the atmosphere will be required.

For the time being, there will be CO2 emissions no matter what because sectors such as shipping and aviation do not yet have viable alternatives to fossil fuels. In the optimum scenario where renewable energies are used whenever possible, it will only reduce CO2 by around 80 per cent. Therefore, technologies that remove the emissions are a necessity.

Here are a few companies applying such technologies on the market today:

Climeworks: Power Plants

Climeworks carbon capture air filter

“Direct air capture may be the most environmentally benign option for large-scale CO2 removal” – Dr. Phillip Williamson, University of East Anglia

Climeworks facility

This company has developed the worlds first commercial carbon removal technology – Direct Air Capture. It enables them to physically remove any organization’s or individual’s past, present and future CO2 emissions. Direct Air Capture (DAC) plants can be set up virtually anywhere and suck carbon right out of the air, then purify it. The CO2 removed from the atmosphere by the plant is then available to supply to customers.

A diagram of how Climeworks carbon capture air filter works

At their pilot plant in Troia Italy carbon from the air is being turned into carbon-neutral fuel.

A second pilot program of theirs that involves Carbfix and Reykjavik Energy is in Iceland at the Hellisheidi Power Plant. Here, captured CO2 is mixed with water and pumped underground into basalt rock where it is stored safely and permanently underground. When the solution reacts with the rock it turns into harmless calcite stone.

A third Climeworks project near Zurich, Switzerland is capturing CO2 to sell to a neighboring greenhouse. They use the product to make their vegetables grow faster.

Another potential project currently in the planning phase is to work with beverage companies that use CO2 in sparkling water or soda.

Carbon Engineering: Synthetic Fuel

Fuel Synthesis diagram

Carbon capture diagram

This company’s pilot plant is in Squamish, Canada. Their DAC technology works in a closed loop where the only major inputs are water and energy, and the output is a stream of pure, compressed CO₂. Their main focus is to take this captured, compressed CO₂ and convert it into clean-burning liquid fuels with ultra-low carbon intensity.

A carbon capture plant which converts the carbon into fuel

In other words, they use it to produce synthetic transportation fuels – such as gasoline, diesel, or jet fuel – using only atmospheric CO2 and hydrogen split from water. These synthetic fuels can radically reduce emissions further by replacing fossil fuels. And here’s the icing on the cake, the entire process is even powered by renewable energy.

Newlight: Plastic

Chair on wheels made out of plastic from captured carbon

This company makes a polymer trademarked as AirCarbon. In a nutshell, they make this plastic from CO2 by capturing methane from a dairy farm in California and then transporting it to a bioreactor. From there, it is mixed with air and interacts with enzymes to form AirCarbon. They are already using the material to make desk chairs, computer packaging, and smartphone covers, and will likely find broader applications for it in the near future.

Opus 12: Chemicals and Fuels

Opus 12

“Our technology bolts onto any source of CO2 emissions, and with only water and electricity as inputs, transforms that CO2 into some of the world’s most critical chemical products.”

This company combines carbon dioxide emissions from industrial processes with water and a catalyst in a reactor. By applying electricity to the reactor fuel or plastic is produced. They are still working on the commercial-scale prototype of this technology but they hope that someday soon they will be able to recycle tons of carbon dioxide emissions daily.