When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

This Company Removes CO2 From The Air, And Turns It Into Fuel

Of the various measures emerging to combat global warming, a small Canadian company says its solution to manipulate Carbon Dioxide is both easy to set up, and scalable.

Many scientists are convinced that a mass withdrawal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere will ultimately be necessary.
Many scientists are convinced that a mass withdrawal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere will ultimately be necessary.
Anne Pélouas

SQUAMISH — The air is pure on the coastal road that winds from North Vancouver to Whistler in British Columbia. Midway between the two cities, the village of Squamish sits at the end of a large bay, surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Past the yacht club, a path worms across land belonging to a logging company and the port terminal. The Carbon Engineering headquarters are just before the beach: in under a year, the firm has succeeded in removing a ton of carbon dioxide daily from its surroundings, the equivalent of a round-trip flight from Paris to New York for one passenger.

The world emits more than 90 million tons of carbon dioxide everyday. Carbon Engineering — a small company based in Calgary, Alberta, with funding from Bill Gates, among others — is one of eleven finalists of the Virgin Earth Challenge, which rewards the best greenhouse gas elimination solutions. Chief among the firm's ambitions is to "suck up" a million tons of carbon dioxide annually from the atmosphere by 2020, recycling the gas and producing 400 million tons of synthetic fuel, mainly to be used for heavy transport (planes, trucks, vans...). Carbon Engineering also aims to earn money through the sale of carbon credits.

"Progress is being made"

Of the various emerging measures to combat global warming, this one has the benefit of being easy to set up anywhere, on a large scale and at a reasonable cost, says Geoffroy Holmes, head of development at Carbon Engineering. He notes that "for a long time still, it will be complicated to monitor the origins of greenhouse gas emissions remotely when they don't come from large polluting industries, but from transport, farming..."

With that in mind, he says we might as well capture carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but without trapping it underground, as existing carbon exploitation units do.

Many scientists are convinced that a mass withdrawal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere will ultimately be necessary. Carbon Engineering's efforts are "a first step that shows that progress is being made," says Klaus Lackner, the head of the University of Arizona's Center for Negative Carbon Emissions.

Alan Robock, a climatology professor at the University of Rutgers, New Jersey, also views the Canadian project favorably. "It's one of the first attempts at capturing carbon in the atmosphere and using it to make a new product, instead of burying it. I hope such projects will develop on a large scale," he says, noting that he fears high costs will dampen enthusiasm.

Ken Caldeira, an atmosphere expert from the Stanford Carnegie Institution for Science, also wonders about "the commercial viability of this project, which is still in the experimental stage."

[rebelmouse-image 27090174 alt="""" original_size="750x422" expand=1]

Air capture installations are key to the process

In any case, Carbon Engineering has already started recycling captured carbon dioxide to produce synthetic fuel. For now, it only has two rivals — California's Global Thermostat and Switzerland's Climeworks — but the Canadian firm believes it has a technological advantage.

In the trial unit's 7 million-euro yard, the system's key piece takes center stage: The contactor is a box four meters wide, with 2 meters for air intake, and a large fan above. "Its design resembles a cooling tower," explains chemical engineer Kevin Nold.

The similarities end there: instead of hot water, the system uses a sodium or potassium hydroxide solution that absorbs three quarters of the captured carbon dioxide. David Keith, the physics professor at the University of Calgary who created Carbon Engineering, developed the prototype. Now a professor at Harvard, Keith has also earned the title of "environmental hero" from Time magazine for his work on global warming.

The goal: to capture 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year

From the contactor, the carbonic gas is transferred to an adjacent warehouse, where it undergoes different chemical reactions. In solid form, it has the shape of beige pellets, like large grains of sand. Every ton of captured carbon dioxide leads to two tons of pellets. The idea is to give the product a tangible value.

"The trial unit has shown that you can capture carbon, and by heating the pellets up to 900°C, through a reaction with hydrogen you can get synthetic fuel," says Holmes.

The company has already gathered 7 million euros in private investments and as much in public funding. At the end of this year, it should be equipped with a synthetic fuel production unit.

"The plan is to produce one barrel per day before rolling out the real commercial phase," Holmes explains. "As early as 2018, we will have a factory for carbon capturing and fuel recycling." The goal is to capture 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year and produce 40 million liters of fuel, enough to supply 25,000 vehicles annually. Eventually, scientists hope to multiply those outputs tenfold.

Successful marketing of this technology could bring in 28 million euros per year, at 1 euro per liter of fuel. And that doesn't include income from carbon credit sales. At 84 euros per ton, 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide taken out of the atmosphere would bring in 8.4 million euros.

"Eventually, we will be able to capture ten times more carbon dioxide with a single unit," says Holmes. "Imagine if we start setting them up worldwide."

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.


The Beast Among Us: Why Femicides Are Every Man's Responsibility

Why does the femicide of Giulia Cecchettin shake Italy but speaks to us all? Argentine journalist Ignacio Pereyra looks at what lies behind femicides and why men must take more responsibility.

photo of a protest with men in the foreground pointing fingers

At the Nov. 25 rally in Ravenna, Italy against violence against women

Fabrizio Zani/ANSA via ZUMA
Ignacio Pereyra


ATHENS — Are you going to write about what happened in Italy, Irene, my partner, asks me. I have no idea what she's talking about. She tells me: a case of femicide has shaken the country and has been causing a stir for two weeks.

As if the fact in itself were not enough, I ask what is different about this murder compared to the other 105 women murdered this year in Italy (or those that happen every day around the world).

For the latest news & views from every corner of the world, Worldcrunch Today is the only truly international newsletter. Sign up here.

We are talking about a country where the expression "fai l'uomo" (be a man) abounds, with a society so prone to drama and tragedy and so fond of crime stories as few others, where the expression "crime of passion" is still mistakenly overused.

In this context, the sister of the victim reacted in an unexpected way for a country where femicide is not a crime recognized in the penal code, contrary to what happens, for example, in almost all of Latin America.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest