A Squamish-based company set on reducing the world’s carbon footprint by sucking CO2 from the air has announced plans to build a second project.
Carbon Engineering and its U.S. partner had just begun building the world’s largest commercial direct air capture project in Texas before announcing this second project – one with a potential capacity of capturing 30 million tonnes of CO2 annually.
The local company — one of the leading direct air capture innovators — is already developing a half-million-tonne DAC plant in Texas in the Permian Basin, in partnership with 1PointFive, a technology subsidiary of Occidental (NYSE: OXY), an American oil producer.
Carbon Engineering announced on Oct. 31 it has been contracted by 1PointFive to begin the front-end planning and engineering for DAC for a second site in Kleberg County, Texas, which will be designed to be scalable.
The scale of the new project
“The site is expected to provide access for the construction of multiple DAC facilities that would collectively remove up to 30 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually for dedicated sequestration,” Carbon Engineering said in a news release.
The first DAC site in Texas is expected to be commissioned in 2024. At an initial 0.5 million tonnes of CO2 captured per year — with a second phase or “train” taking it to 1 million tonnes — it will be the largest DAC plant in the world.
“This first facility, which is only half a megatonne, will be a hundred times bigger than anything else that exists in the world,” Daniel Friedmann, former CEO of Macdonald, Dettwiler & Associates and new CEO of Carbon Engineering, told BIV News.
“And then we’re now talking about doing 30 megatonnes, which will be 60 times bigger than that.”
“When it begins operations in 2024, DAC 1 is set to become the world’s largest direct air capture (DAC) facility,” the International Energy Agency (IEA) recently noted of the 1PointFive plant. “This landmark project is an important development that can help demonstrate the valuable and unique role of DAC for meeting net zero goals.”
The CO2 captured at the first site could be used either for enhanced oil recovery, or for pure sequestration. The second site announced this week would be for pure geological sequestration.
Because of the energy inputs needed to pull CO2 out of the air, DAC is much more expensive than source-point capture (i.e. capturing CO2 directly from industrial flu stacks). But whereas point source capture makes industries carbon neutral, DAC is considered carbon negative because it would be removing CO2 that is already in the atmosphere.
The economics of direct air capture
Until very recently, the economics for DAC with pure sequestration were prohibitively challenging. Unless some value can be found for captured CO2 — using it for enhanced oil recovery, for example — the economics just didn’t work for DAC.
But thanks to the U.S. President Joe Biden administration’s new Inflation Reduction Act in the U.S., DAC with pure sequestration may suddenly have a value proposition.
According to the World Resources Institute, the cost of DAC is US$250 to US$600 per tonne of CO2 captured, though projections are the costs could fall to US$150 to US$200 per tonne over the next five to 10 years.
The U.S. already had the 45Q tax credit, which provided significant subsidies for carbon capture and storage investments.
Once it came into effect, the Inflation Reduction Act boosted the 45Q tax credit for DAC from US$50 per tonne to US$180 per tonne for pure sequestration, and from US$35 per tonne to $130 per tonne for DAC-captured CO2 used in enhanced oil recovery.
The 1PointFive business model for its DAC projects also includes selling carbon offsets. Airbus, for example, has purchased 400,000 tonnes of carbon removal credits from 1PointFive for its first DAC project in Texas.
“The government has enabled the math to all work,” Friedmann said. “There’s no doubt that the U.S. legislation is miles ahead of anything in the world, including Canada, and that we’re all going to be building our plants in the U.S., given that legislation.”
As for why Texas is poised to become such a major player in the DAC space, the Lone Star State has a couple of distinct advantages. For one, it has massive amounts of geological storage capacity, both in Texas and next door in Louisiana, thanks to all the old spent oil and gas wells there.
“When you’re looking for the best location, the first thing you need to have, you need to have a place to store a lot of carbon,” Friedmann said. “Because we’re not trying to build 1 megatonne – we’re trying to build 30 megatonnes -- and we’re going to run those plants for 20, 30 years, so we have to have a lot of (storage) space.
“The second criteria is we need to run our machines on renewable electricity. Otherwise, we’re not moving forward.”
DAC requires a fair amount of electricity, and Texas has a substantial amount of wind power. About 20% of its power comes from wind. Texas also gets about 11% of its firm power from zero-emission nuclear power.
1PointFive has ambitious plans to build 70 DAC facilities worldwide by 2035.
Not yet economical in Canada
Friedmann told The Squamish Chief that while the company can receive US$180 per tonne for pure sequestration south of the border, that’s not the case in Canada.
“The key thing about the U.S. number is that the government gives that to people that will take the carbon out of the air,” he said.
“In Canada, we don’t have such a program.”
Testing continues in Squamish
In the meantime, Friedmann said that the company is testing a new material in Squamish that could yield a 20% improvement in capture efficiency.
Friedmann said the technology works by having a film of chemicals dripped onto PVC plastic sheets. As the carbon dioxide comes in contact with the film, it gets absorbed.
“The trick is, you know, how can you get the maximum amount of chemical in contact with the air in the minimum amount of space?” he said.
If you drip the chemical film on a smooth surface like a window, you get a certain efficiency, he said. But, for example, if you make it as a complex honeycomb, then there’s a lot more surface in contact with the air.
“We’re constantly trying to come up with different patterns to put on our pieces of plastic PVC sheets, so that there’s more and more potential for contact with air,” said Friedmann. “It’s really that simple. It’s complicated to figure it out.”
He said if all goes according to plan, the new material will be present in the two sites that are being built.
Pay them a visit
Friedmann also said locals shouldn’t be shy to walk outside the Carbon Engineering testing site at the oceanfront.
While they can’t access the inside of the facility, as that requires specialized safety equipment, they can get a good view of the facility without the need to schedule an appointment.
Friedmann said the corporation installed interpretive signs for residents who happen to be taking a stroll near the company site.
That way, they can learn about each of the facilities and what’s going on in there.
“People can take a real look at what’s going on there from outside the fence. They don’t need to book anything. They can just go there anytime they want,” Friedmann said.
Despite the company’s plans in the U.S., he still called Squamish the “centre of the universe for Carbon Engineering.”
“Squamish is the place where we go from an idea on paper or on a computer all the way to the Innovation Center, which is representative of the scale of the commercial plants ... So that’s where everything happens for carbon engineering. It’s right in Squamish.”
**Please note that this story has been corrected since it was first posted to reflect that the sheets used were PVC (not PCB, which was a typo).