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🌳 "Direct Air Capture"

Cutting Carbon

Photo by Li-An Lim / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Hosts: Jeff Goldmeer & Brian Gutknect
Guest: Carlos Haertel | Chief Technology Officer | Climeworks AG
Category: 🌳 Carbon Capture

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[1:42] “[Climeworks] is an early stage company with the ambition of solving the problem of climate change, by technical means. […] Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere […] is the driver of most of what we see in terms of climate change. And the machinery that could take it out of the atmosphere and sequester it safely somewhere, would be exactly that machine that reverses climate change, if deployed at large scale.”

[2:39] “Fundamentally, direct air capture is doing what the natural world has been doing for a long time, it’s taking the carbon dioxide straight out of the atmosphere. […] You can take CO2 also from the sources from the industrial sources where it's being emitted. Think of power plants, chemical plants, think of cement plants and others. We would refer to that as point source capture. And that's an industry in itself, and something which is gaining a lot of momentum. What we do is, we capture the CO2 basically where it makes the trouble, if you will, namely, out of the atmosphere. Now why is that a big difference? [Mainly] because the CO2 in the atmosphere is in fact, highly diluted, […] it's actually a trace gas in the atmosphere and that makes taking it out technically quite a challenge and requires some smart technologies to do it.”

[4:44] “Since […] it's so highly diluted, you got to move a lot of air to capture a lot of CO2. So the systems will have large fans that suck in air and move it through an array of filter materials. […] That goes on for a while until the filter material is saturated. You will need to close the chamber in which that filter material is integrated, take out the remaining air and then heat up the chamber. […] We typically do it using waste heat from other sources. In our case, in Iceland, it's geothermal heat, but at relatively low temperatures, say around […] 200 […] Fahrenheit. […] Heating up the material means the material releases the CO2 again. […] And that means you can now in the chamber collect the CO2, you can purify it if needed, and then you move it somewhere else where you either can sequester it in the earth or you can use it for some processes that create renewable fuels or renewable chemicals or you could actually also put it into a beverage plant. And then you have beverages that are enriched with carbon dioxide, as many of our soft drinks are. We actually have a plant in Switzerland that is serving the one of the drink manufacturers in the country with CO2 captured from the atmosphere, rather than taken from chemical plants or from the environment. Other users would also be enhancing the growth in greenhouses.”

[8:40] “Reforestation/ afforestation […] is of the essence for a number of reasons. And capturing carbon is one of them, but restoring ecosystems, ensuring biodiversity and many other reasons speak for having more plants. But if you look at the various reports from the IPCC and from other organizations, you recognize that if you make an assessment of how much potential for carbon dioxide removal the various approaches have, you very soon find that it needs a portfolio approach. Not one approach alone can cut it. So you need natural methods, you need technological methods and on top you of course need a lot of decarbonization going on in industry, so avoiding emissions in the first place. If you don't avoid emissions, no air capture and no planting of trees is going to help us. So all these things need to come together.”

[10:10] “There's a variety of geological storage sites that lend themselves for permanent sequestration of CO2. It could be aquifers, could be depleted oil and gas reservoirs. […] We are having another way of storing it permanently and that's what we're doing in Iceland, namely, injecting the CO2 in basaltic rocks. And the very conditions in Iceland allow for a very fast mineralization, basically turning it into stone. And that goes in a matter of years, rather than in some other locations, where would happen naturally too, but this being a process that goes on over centuries, or maybe even longer timeframes.”

[11:05] “The storage does not have to be where the plant is, or vice versa, […] although it has advantages in that you save the transportation component. But there's already hubs being developed in Europe and I think also in the US, where the CO2 is being collected in a sense, and then brought through pipelines to a very large central storage facility in the Northern Sea and elsewhere. So you could also be hosted somewhere near to a port, where this is being shipped into the pipeline.”

[12:51] “The only company that has systems […] on a regular field operation actually is Climeworks. There's a couple of more companies that have announced plans to build commercial operations in the field, but so far, we are the only ones who have done it. We have in total 14 plants spread out across Europe, but most of them are very small. They have the character of pilot plants exploring different climatic conditions, exploring different application use cases for the CO2.”

[13:21] “The one plant that really is a commercial plant for CO2 removal, where ultimately certificates […] are being issued […] that's the plan which we are currently commissioning in Iceland. And that has a nameplate capacity of about 4,000 tonnes per year. Now, that's already a sizable plant for us. But by the standards of what it takes in the future to reverse climate change, that's a very small plant. […] If you look at the numbers that the research societies have been publishing and the associations then you recognize, we need to remove as of 2050, something between 5 […] up to 30 giga tons […] per year […].”

[15:14] “There's a variety of factors that play into the cost equation. It starts […] with scale. This industry is a nascent industry, it's just emerging. […] So you do not have a tailor made and competitive supply chain around it. […] And that makes it naturally expensive, because it is […] almost like prototyping, which is always expensive. […] And the core material that matters the most is the filter material, unsurprisingly. […] And ultimately, of course, it also needs to be relatively cheap, it can't be arbitrarily expensive. So, innovations on the site or filter materials, [are] picking up at a very fast rate. […] So in summary, it's the filter material, it's the process designed around the filter material, it's finding the perfect location with the right low cost energy supply. And then ultimately scaling it up, which is gonna take care through learning curves of the remaining reduction and cost that will be needed.”

[24:45] “So at this very moment, I think the market is a entirely voluntary market, […] [which] is going to help that industry takes the first important steps of scale up, of maturing technology of developing a footprint of developing practices around everything from where to build, how to build, how to sequester […]. So that market is extremely important, it can move faster than regulated markets can, because it doesn't take many Parliaments and governments to make decisions and coordinate. In the long run however, I will say that without a regulated market, it's going to be very hard to reach the enormous volumes that have to be removed.”

[26:32] “Time is of the essence. […] You might think this is an early stage technology and there's a few startups pushing this forward and we got to wait and see what happens. The reality I think is [that] 2050 in industrial timescales is basically around the corner. So if you want to bring something from, in our case, from a few 100,000 tonnes per year removed to a gigaton per year removed here, 20 to 30 time scale of the industry year after year with expanding capacity. You just can't switch it on overnight. […] It's something that needs to become a reality very soon. And then hopefully, we'll be ready to make its contribution by 2050 when it truly matters.”

Rating: ⚡⚡⚡⚡

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify
🕰️ 28 min | 🗓️ 07/22/2021
✅ Time saved: 26 min

Additional Links:
Webinar for Decarbonization Technologies: Exploring Carbon Capture