Algae: Carbon capture of a different sort

(Pond Technologies)

Think algae is just that stinky gunk that litters some shorelines?

It’s so much more, according to Steve Martin, CEO of Pond Technologies, who describes himself as the “guy who has the crazy idea that we can grow algae off of the industrial emissions and help to save the world.”

For about a year, Martin and a small crew have been running a demonstration algae plant out of a small tent at his company’s cement factory in St. Marys, Ont., about 170 kilometres west of Toronto. He pointed out that cement is the most manufactured product in the world, used to build things like hydroelectric dams.

“We see a smokestack and we say, ‘Look, that’s evil, that’s got to go,'” Martin said. “For a tonne of cement, you make a tonne of carbon dioxide. So we need to find a way to use that, and luckily, nature has provided algae.”

Pipes from the smokestacks at the cement plant run to Pond’s tent, transporting CO2 into a giant, 22,000-litre tank known as a bioreactor. The algae then does what it does best, according to project manager Tim Everett: It gobbles up the CO2.

The result is about 20 kilograms of a thick green paste produced daily. “It really is almost a limitless byproduct,” said Everett, a mechanical engineer.

The team then uses that paste to cook up a series of green superfoods, including chlorella and spirulina, as well as feed for farm animals.

Martin admitted the technology isn’t new, and Pond Technologies isn’t the only one doing it. But he thinks their methods are the most advanced, and he’s hoping to make a serious dent in carbon emissions.

“The potential is enormous,” he said. “If we put this technology on just 10 per cent of the industrial emitters in North America, we are a long way to meeting the goals of CO2 reduction.”

Still, some say the technology is expensive and its use limited.

“It’s kind of like using a mop to clean up water on the floor while the tap is still running. We need to be thinking of ways to turn off that tap,” said Sarah Buchanan with Environmental Defence, a watchdog group based in Toronto.

She said carbon removal technologies are helpful in a limited way, but the focus should be on clean alternatives that can produce energy without any carbon pollution. “The only silver bullet solution, really, is we have to stop burning fossil fuels. There’s a lot of great renewable clean technologies that can help us do that.”

Martin agrees, but he believes his project can play a vital role.

“I would say it’s not an a la carte menu, it’s a buffet,” he said. “We have to do it all.” SOURCE


Stanford Study Says Renewable Power Eliminates Argument for Using Carbon Capture with Fossil Fuels

coal power plant

:Cheshire coal power plant,Ohio. Credit: Peggydavis66CC BYSA 2.0

New research from Stanford University professor Mark Z. Jacobson questions the climate and health benefits of carbon capture technology against simply switching to renewable energy sources like wind and solar. Carbon capture technology is premised on two possible approaches to reducing climate pollution: removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere anywhere in the world, an approach generally known as direct air capture, or removing it directly from the emissions source, such as the smoke stack of a fossil fuel power plant.

Jacobson’s study, published last month in the peer-reviewed journal Energy and Environmental Science, concludes that carbon capture technologies are inefficient at pulling out carbon, from a climate perspective, and often increase local air pollution from the power required to run them, which exacerbates public health issues. Replacing a coal plant with wind turbines, on the other hand, always decreases local air pollution and doesn’t come with the associated cost of running a carbon capture system, says Jacobson.

Not only does carbon capture hardly work at existing plants, but there’s no way it can actually improve to be better than replacing coal or gas with wind or solar directly,” Jacobson said in a Stanford press release. “The latter will always be better, no matter what, in terms of the social cost. You can’t just ignore health costs or climate costs.”

Jacobson’s findings support an April analysis by Clean Technica, which found that “wind and solar are displacing roughly 35 times as much CO2 every year as the complete global history of CCS [carbon capture and storage].”

Carbon capture technologies are still in their early stages and are far from being ready to scale up globally while renewable power is already economical, with forecasts for further price drops and huge growth.

As Clean Technica’s Mike Barnard concluded, “CCS is a rounding error in global warming mitigation.”

Today, wind and solar, combined with battery storage, are cheaper than coal for power generation. The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), a nonprofit that supports the transition away from fossil fuels, predicts that by 2035 even the glut of natural gas now flooding the world at record low prices won’t be able to compete with renewables for power generation.

Just this week the CEO of Australian power company Alinta said he expected to close one of its coal plants well ahead of schedule. His reasoning was simple. 

“Given my 25 years of industry experience, I’d certainly be backing renewables, pumped storage and battery over [high-efficiency, low-emissions coal-fired power] and carbon capture and storage,” Alinta CEO Jeff Dimmery told The Business Program in Australia.

Oil and Gas Companies Love Carbon Capture … and Carbon Taxes

The oil and gas industry has been a vocal supporter of carbon capture. The part that these fossil fuel companies presumably find so attractive is that it involves burning hydrocarbons — the product they sell — but in a way that theoretically doesn’t contribute to the climate crisis.

ExxonMobil asks on its website, “What If We Could Stop Carbon Dioxide Emissions From Power Plants?” It then goes on to suggest that carbon capture could make this possible. However, Exxon fails to acknowledge a simple, economical, and achievable way to stop the carbon dioxide emissions from power plants: use renewable sources. We have the answer to Exxon’s question, but the company probably won’t like it.

Carbon capture technology is also the basis of the mythical concept of “clean coal,” which purports that coal can be burned for power and all of the carbon from its combustion could be captured and stored somewhere for the long term, instead of being released into the warming atmosphere. While carbon capture and storage has been a failure on a commercial basis for coal plants (and still yields the toxic impacts of mining and burning coal), the global coal industry is still pushing this concept.

Last year, Reuters surveyed 10 major power companies and found the vast majority have no plans to install carbon capture technology, despite the many tax incentives Congress has offered.

Carbon capture is definitely interesting, it just hasn’t made economic sense just yet,” Spencer Hall, a spokesman for utility Rocky Mountain Power, explained to Reuters.

At this point, carbon capture isn’t economically viable but remains a favorite option pushed by the fossil fuel industry. It’s not unlike another policy designed to reduce carbon emissions — a carbon tax.

California has one of the largest cap and trade programs in the world. Much like a carbon tax, cap and trade programs are designed to use market incentives to lower carbon emissions from sources within a certain area. A new report by ProPublica finds that California’s cap and trade system has failed to achieve its goals, and one of the main reasons is that oil industry lobbyists have worked hard to make the system favorable to their interests — while ignoring the climate consequences.

Any plan to reduce carbon emissions via financial incentives for the oil and gas industry are at risk of this same fatal flaw. MORE

Scientific Breakthrough: MIT Solves Two Huge Energy Problems

Battery Lab

While methane has recently started to grab some attention for its contribution to climate change, carbon dioxide remains the main culprit that scientists point their finger at. Because of its bad-guy status, there have been understandably many attempts to capture and store, or even utilize this CO2. But so far, none of these attempts has demonstrated potential for large-scale adoption. That is, up until now.

Now, a new kind of battery just might fill this need.

Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have published a paper that details the mechanism of a battery device that can suck out the carbon dioxide from the air, store it, and then release it for sequestration or storage and subsequent sale: the oil and gas industry uses CO2 to improve well output.

The principle of the device is ingeniously simple: as the battery charges, it sucks in carbon dioxide. During discharge, the CO2 is released into the ground. The battery itself is made up of arrays of electrodes with gaps between the arrays so the gas can enter the device. Each electrode is coated with a carbon nanotube layer that enables an electrochemical reaction when carbon dioxide comes into contact with the surface of the electrodes. The guarantee for this contact is the fact the electrodes have a natural affinity for CO2, which means they attract the gas molecules when they enter the device.

“The greatest advantage of this technology over most other carbon capture or carbon absorbing technologies is the binary nature of the adsorbent’s affinity to carbon dioxide,” explains one of the authors, Sahag Voskian, as quoted by New Atlas. “This binary affinity allows capture of carbon dioxide from any concentration, including 400 parts per million (the levels in the atmosphere), and allows its release into any carrier stream, including 100 percent CO2.”

The process is called electro-swing adsorption and, according to the authors of the paper, the device utilizing it could be economically feasible at a cost of between $50 and $100 per ton of carbon dioxide. What’s more, Sahag Voskian and T. Alan Hatton say, the device is very easy to use thanks to its simple design and minimal additional equipment, which is limited to a power source for the charging and a destination for the electricity, a so-called sink.

If the electro-swing device lives up to the promise it would save thebiggest problem of carbon capture and storage: the prohibitively highcosts. The costliest part of the process is the capture. The Carbon Capture and Storage Association estimates the cost of capturing carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning at about US$70-102 per ton.

The same association predicts these could fall to around US$40-57 over the next few years, with hopes that carbon capture technology will follow the cost-falling path of lithium ion batteries. While it is far from certain it will work out that way, inventions such as the carbon-swing device are offering solutions.

For now, based on CCSA’s cost projections for carbon capture, the creators of the electro-swing battery will need to lower the upper limit of their cost range. But with its simple design and plug-and-play nature, the device could have a bright future in carbon capture. SOURCE

Green cement? Captured carbon may fuel new markets and help climate

Image result for Green cement? Captured carbon may fuel new markets and help climate
Companies are already turning carbon dioxide captured at industrial plants into materials such as road aggregate and low-carbon cement, scientists said in a paper published in the journal Nature. Li-An Lim/Unsplash

LONDON – Capturing planet-warming carbon dioxide and turning it into useful products, from plastics to jet fuel, could make climate action cheaper and become a good business – but market obstacles need to be overcome first, researchers said on Thursday (Nov 7).

Companies are already turning carbon dioxide captured at industrial plants into materials such as road aggregate and low-carbon cement, scientists said in a paper published in the journal Nature.

Eventually products could also be made from carbon dioxide captured directly from the air, as the costs of that technology fall, they added.

“There are a lot of weird and wacky ideas out there, and we’re just scratching the surface,” said Professor Cameron Hepburn, a University of Oxford professor in environmental economics and a lead author of the study. But efforts to turn captured carbon into products are still largely small-scale because most countries have yet to put an economic value on eliminating climate-changing gases while some of the processes require a lot of energy, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Construction standards and other regulations also make creating markets for new products difficult, said Prof Hepburn, also director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment.

With emissions from burning fossil fuels and clearing forests continuing to rise, scientists now believe holding warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times will require sucking some carbon back out of the atmosphere.

In a landmark 2018 report, they said keeping global temperature rise to that more ambitious of two limits adopted in the 2015 Paris Agreement would substantially cut risks linked to planetary warming, from water shortages to wilder weather.

Scientists say carbon dioxide captured from smoke-stacks or the air could be stored permanently underground, but investment and policy to make that happen on a large scale have been slow to emerge.

In Europe, “we’re so far off trend it makes you wonder what we’re doing”, Dr Andrew Cavanagh, an emissions storage expert at Scotland’s University of Edinburgh, told a September conference.

Read also: Explainer: Why climate change should matter to Singaporeans and what the Govt is doing about it

Instead, turning some of the carbon into products with a market value could be another way to drive investment into carbon capture, economists say.


The Nature study, which examined thousands of papers on technologies to remove and use carbon, including natural processes, to gauge their viability, predicted they could together remove between 1 and 10 gigatonnes of emissions a year.

Read also: Green steps that Singapore should take urgently

Burning fossil fuels is currently emitting 37 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide a year, and scientists predict the world will need to remove somewhere between 100 and 1,000 gigatonnes of carbon in total this century, the study said.

The technologies assessed ranged from turning carbon dioxide into a feedstock for plastic or fertiliser production, to finding ways to build skyscrapers in fast-growing cities out of carbon-sequestering wood or even carbon-negative cement blocks.

Researchers estimate that about US$90 trillion (S$112 trillion) will need to be spent globally by 2030 to build and update infrastructure, particularly as the world becomes more urban and cities grow.

That could create major new markets for carbon-storing building materials, said Dr Ella Adlen, a researcher at the Oxford Martin School and another lead author of the paper.

But attracting investment in many of the technologies remains challenging because of problems ranging from regulatory barriers to poor financial returns due to a low – or absent – price on carbon, Prof Hepburn said.

Capturing carbon directly from the air can also take large amounts of energy, although fast-falling costs for renewables may eventually eliminate that problem, he said.

Finding just a few initial lucrative uses for captured carbon dioxide could help “prime the pump” for more, as business interests push governments to change policy, Prof Hepburn said.

“We have this big oil and gas industry taking carbon out of the ground and putting it into the air,” he said. “We need an industry almost as big in reverse, taking carbon out of the air.”

Capturing and using carbon dioxide cannot be a substitute for switching away from fossil fuels to cleaner sources of energy, he emphasised, even though the oil and gas industry is “very interested” in the new technologies.

“We need to do both as fast as possible,” he added.

The paper’s authors differed on the prospects for the carbon removal technologies, Hepburn noted, with some highly doubtful most will succeed and others more optimistic.

Mr John Beddington, a former chief scientific advisor to the British government who pushed for the study, warned “the risk of getting (carbon capture and use) wrong is quite high”.

“But if you do it right… you are tackling one of the key barriers to change, which is the cost of (climate) action,” he said.  SOURCE

Research on capturing carbon from mining secures federal funding

The Gahcho Kue mine, located about about 280 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, is shown in an undated handout photo. Handout Photo by De Beers Group of Companies

A research collaboration between universities and mining companies to capture carbon in mine tailings has been boosted by a federal government grant.

Natural Resources Canada has awarded $2 million to the University of British Columbia-led project, while several industry members have contributed an additional $1.2 million.

The funding will allow testing of the carbon capture techniques at De Beers Group’s Gahcho Kue diamond mine in the Northwest Territories this year, and a prospective nickel mine in 2020.

“It’s allowing us to take things we’ve been doing in the lab for the last several years and move them into field trials,” said project lead Greg Dipple, a professor at UBC’s Bradshaw Research Initiative for Minerals and Mining.

The project aims to accelerate the natural reaction that happens when certain minerals come in contact with carbon dioxide and converts it in a solid carbonate mineral.

Testing at the Gahcho Kue mine will involve pumping carbon dioxide through a pipe into a pile of blended mining waste rock, known as tailings, to test the technique in real-world conditions.

Dipple said a nickel mine in Australia has already shown to be capturing about 40,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide naturally, so the idea is to make small changes at mines to increase the process at a reasonable cost.

“We’re looking at how one can do modest changes to how a mine is designed, and how materials are handled, so we really are targeting the less than $50 a tonne cost for the first deployments.” MORE