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

PHOTOS: Abbotsford home with helipad and trout-stocked lake up for sale

Man-made lake on Abbotsford property has its own white sand beech and island

Wet’suwet’en solidarity protesters block rail lines in Abbotsford

Two dozen set up barricades between Riverside and Vye roads

After Abbotsford woman’s death, accused killer bragged about money at casino, video shows

David Miller is charged with the first-degree murder of Debra Novacluse in 2016

Motorists were ‘driving like their own Indy 500’ before fatal Abbotsford crash, court hears

Family member declares defence request for 90-day jail sentence a ‘joke’

Abbotsford Panthers win EVAA title

Abby senior boys defeat Yale Lions 90-79 on Sunday to capture banner

Do you talk to your spouse about money? 42% of Canadians don’t, poll suggests

Politics, sex, religion top list of taboo subjects for Canadians

Okanagan animal sanctuary seeks to fit frostbitten baby goat with prosthetic leg

Fundraiser started to help Zuri, newest resident of Twin Hearts Animal Sanctuary

UPDATE: Two killed in fiery collision on Highway 1 near Revelstoke

The Trans Canada Highway was closed for four hours

Father, two children killed after car goes over embankment on B.C. highway

The single vehicle crash occured near Kamloops on Highway 5A

Chilliwack youth coach acquitted of sexual touching of a minor

BC Supreme Court justice finds reasonable doubt despite not believing the accused

Trout ‘doing quite well’ at Kootenay hatchery after otters, who ate 150 fish, relocated

River otters had been pillaging a moat outside the facility for months, gobbling up about 150 trout

Most Read