Can Scientists Really Turn Polluted Air Into A Clean Fuel Source?

Jun 21, 2018
Originally published on June 19, 2018 11:00 am

From Texas Standard:

Most discussions about how to solve climate change involve limiting greenhouse gas emissions. But what if there was another way? A new study co-published by a team of researchers at Harvard and a Canadian company called Carbon Engineering says there is one.

They claim that what they describe as "Direct Air Capture" technology will be able to actually suck carbon out of the atmosphere at industrial scales by the year 2021, and it could cost less than 100 dollars a ton. Steve Oldham, CEO of Carbon Engineering, says that this price point makes DAC a viable tool in the race to combat climate change.

“What we do with our technology is we have a front end which is a membrane coated with a chemical substance,” Oldham says. “And then we pull the air over that membrane and chemical substance. The chemical substance reacts, pulls the CO2 out of the air, drops down to the bottom, and then we extract the CO2 from that.” All of this is accomplished with existing industrial technology, which Carbon Engineering says is a huge advantage in terms of pricing.

The company aims to achieve profitability by taking captured carbon and combining it with hydrogen, thereby converting it into a carbon-neutral fuel source.

Oldham says his company is eyeing Texas as the potential site for commercial plants, due to the state’s sizable renewable energy sector.

“For our plants to work most efficiently they work well with renewable energy,” Oldham says. “And of course in Texas you guys have got a great wind industry. You’ve also got solar industry. So we’re actually talking to some of the companies in Texas already about putting some of our very first plants in Texas.”

Critics say that even if the cost of capturing carbon falls dramatically, it still won’t be enough to offset the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere every year. Oldham concedes that the fight against climate change calls for many approaches and solutions.

“I don’t think anybody should be banking on one technology or another – ours or anybody else’s,” Oldham says. “We need to develop a suite of technologies to reduce emissions and deal with atmospheric cleanup. We think we’re one of them. We can do both.”

Written by Josue Moreno.

Copyright 2018 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.