Let’s harness Canada’s energy expertise to lead the world in next generation synthetic fuels.

Question:Which market-based approaches encourage adoption of clean technologies?
on 08/31/2016

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A multitude of bright ideas – spanning economic policies, energy efficiency, new technologies, and more – will all be needed to help Canada tackle the challenge of reducing GHG emissions and ensuring competitiveness in a low-carbon future. But with challenge comes opportunity. If we can lead and develop low-carbon businesses and technologies ahead of the curve, we’ll get the benefit of growing clean industries at home, and also that of exporting our products and know-how as other countries tackle the same issue.

As Canada takes stock of the options at our disposal, we wish to highlight what we’re doing at Carbon Engineering. We’re a home-grown Canadian company, and we’ve been developing technology to absorb industrial-scale quantities of CO2 from atmospheric air since 2009. We’ve received a lot of recognition for our work such as becoming a finalist in the $25M Virgin Earth Challenge, and we think our “direct air capture” technology has a lot to offer in the task of reducing GHG’s.

At its simplest, direct air capture may one day be used to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, and permanently store it underground, in order to compensate for emissions that are too costly or challenging to stop at source. But perhaps more importantly in the near term, direct air capture can enable a concept we call “air to fuels”.

“Air to fuels” uses renewable electricity to split water into oxygen and hydrogen, and then react the hydrogen with CO2 captured from air, to form gasoline, diesel, or other types of common liquid transportation fuels. It has long been technically possible to synthesize fuels in this way, but until now the approach has been too expensive to compete with fuels produced from crude oil.

With our advancements in direct air capture, the rapid cost reductions in renewable electricity and hydrogen production in recent years, and the growing need to reduce usage of fossil fuels, the time is now right to invest in “air to fuels”. Fuels synthesized from atmospheric CO2, water, and electricity can be fully compatible with current infrastructure and engines, don’t have the land use and food security issues associated with bio-fuels, and can be net carbon-neutral on a life-cycle basis. Our engineering and analysis suggests that we could be producing high volumes of synthetic fuels with the “air to fuels” approach for costs at or below $1.00 /litre.

Building air to fuels facilities in Canada could supply clean low-carbon fuels to our transportation sector, and could help displace emissions created by production and consumption of fossil fuels. Further, air to fuels can be scaled-up around the globe to help other countries do the same. We think that Canada has several advantages to act and take the lead on this technology, by harnessing world class capabilities in manufacturing, finance, construction, and energy.

We’re now at a point in our trajectory where we have demonstrated our air capture technology with a pilot plant in Squamish, B.C. and are in process of demonstrating full “air to fuels” at the same site. We’re beginning work on a first commercial plant that would prove out the “air to fuels” concept and technology in a commercial setting, but we need support for these efforts, and we need continued policy evolution to help “air to fuels” gain traction and compete against fossil fuels economy-wide.

On a longer term basis, systems like a Low Carbon Fuel Standard, or performance based rules that favour fuels with low life-cycle carbon intensity and low land use footprint are key to making sure that low-carbon advanced fuels (including those produced by “air to fuels”) take hold and deploy in Canada. By leading deployment of advanced fuels that are cleaner burning and have lower life-cycle GHG emissions, Canada can meet its own climate change targets, and can profitably export technology around the world to help other countries do the same. We hope that our direct air capture technology, and the “air to fuels concept” it enables, can add to Canada’s options to cut emissions and build a prosperous 21st century low-carbon economy.

For more information, please visit our website at www.carbonengineering.com or contact us by email.

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