The Syncrude oil sands extraction facility is reflected in a tailings pond near the city of Fort McMurray, Alta., on June 1, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

New industry develops around sucking carbon dioxide out of atmosphere

The market for such products has been estimated at $1 trillion a year

Somewhere in west Texas, amid one of the most productive oilfields in the continent, a Canadian company is building a plant that it hopes will eventually suck from the air a million tonnes of carbon being pumped out of the ground all around it.

Carbon Engineering’s groundbreaking plant is one of many projects hoping to help in the fight against climate change by turning its main driver — carbon dioxide — into a useful product that can be profitably removed from the atmosphere.

“We’re pulling the CO2 back down,” CEO Steve Oldham said in a recent interview.

People in labs and boardrooms around the world are beginning to confront the realization that more needs to be done than cut emissions if the world is to remain livable. Vast amounts of carbon already in the atmosphere will have to be removed.

A 2017 paper in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change calculated that to stabilize climate change at two degrees Celsius, between 120 billion and 160 billion tonnes of CO2 will have to be sucked from the air and stored underground. That’s in addition to Paris agreement emissions cuts.

That would cost big bucks. And that, says energy economist Mark Jaccard, is why companies such as Carbon Engineering are so important. Using CO2 to make marketable products will help pay for the massive scale-up of technology to remove CO2 and inject it permanently underground.

“You’re going to have to figure out some product you can make until humanity’s ready to use this for the real reason, which is to capture and bury carbon,” said Jaccard of the University of British Columbia.

Carbon Engineering is already pulling CO2 from the air and turning it into fuel at its pilot plant in Squamish, B.C. In Halifax, CarbonCure Technologies is injecting CO2 into concrete.

Many companies already inject CO2 underground to force more oil to the surface — which, if done right, can result in carbon-negative oil. Other companies are using the gas to create useful chemicals, carbon nanotubes or plastics.

“There’s a number of technologies we’re trying to advance,” said Wes Jickling of the Canadian Oilsands Innovation Alliance. The group is helping run the Carbon XPrize, a $20-million award for the best conversion of CO2 into a saleable product.

The market for such products has been estimated at $1 trillion a year.

The question is whether that’s a prize adequate to drive innovation and construction fast enough to start reducing atmospheric CO2 before global temperatures rise past 1.5 degrees. That’s little more than a decade, according to the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The technology for burying carbon underground, known as sequestration, is well understood and is being used at full-scale sites in Alberta and Saskatchewan. But in 2018, the British Royal Society found that the pace of building such facilities needs to speed up by at least 100 times to meet the UN’s climate target.

Making products from CO2 also creates what’s known in climate circles as the moral hazard. If we can suck the gas out of the air, why bother emitting less of it?

We can’t count on a magic bullet to save us, said Jason Switzer, director of the Alberta Clean Technology Industry Alliance.

“There’s no question that we can’t keep deferring hard choices,” he said. “We do have to make difficult choices.”

The world needs to emit far less carbon and take out much of what’s already there, Jaccard said. Building an industry based on removing it from the air is the best way to develop cheap and efficient ways of doing that.

“People have to figure how to get enough support for these technologies they know we’re going to need.”

ALSO READ: Liberals face challenge to climate, economic policies early in 2020

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

MISSING TEEN: Williams Lake RCMP ask public’s help in finding Angel Emile

Emile was last seen on Windmill Crescent in Williams Lake Jan. 16

Don’t fall for scammer who says, “Your Windows license is expiring”

They explain you need to upgrade your operating system if you want your computer to keep working

Soccer Academy every Friday at the Barriere Ridge

U4 to U13 youngsters excited about Lead Wolf Selects Soccer Academy

Serious snow days at Sun Peaks, Harper Mountain

Sun Peaks has 340 cm of snow so far this ski season while Harper Mountain has seen 189 cm fall

Don’t be surprised to see Vikings in Wells Gray

The Vikings are coming to Clearwater. On Feb. 1, the Wells Gray… Continue reading

VIDEO: WHO says China virus not global health emergency

The decision came after Chinese authorities moved to lock down three cities on Thursday

Here’s what Canada is doing to stop the coronavirus from getting in

Health officials are monitoring multiple possible cases in Canada

RCMP investigating sexual allegation against Lower Mainland police officer

Delta officer suspended while the alleged off-duty incident involving a co-worker is investigated

VIDEO: Rare ‘ice circle’ spotted on Kamloops river

An ice circle or ice pan, has formed in the chilly waters just east of the Yellowhead Bridge

Interior Health issues drug alert in Kamloops

Testing of two samples of drugs sold as crystal meth was positive for fentanyl

Investigators in wildfire-torn Australia head to site of B.C. airtanker crash

The B.C. government sends condolences to Port Alberni-owned Coulson Aviation

VIDEO: Person in wheelchair narrowly avoids collision with car in Kelowna

There were no injuries in the scary looking near-accident last week in Rutland

B.C. still struggling to control non-resident medical care fraud

Unpaid bills, out-of-province claimants a costly legacy of MSP

Father to B.C.’s first MLB hall-of-famer is one proud dad

Larry Walker Sr. talks baseball background and son’s base running gaffe

Most Read