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

Over the years, Janice Blackie-Goodine’s home in Summerland has featured elaborate Halloween displays and decorations each October. (File photo)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about Halloween?

Oct. 31 is a night of frights. How much do you know about Halloween customs and traditions?

Online sales are beginning to alter the traditional sales practices for real estate developments. (Contributed)
Embracing digital sales tactics in Okanagan housing market

Real estate industry’s resistance to online sales can’t last

The mandate is in keeping with recommendations made by Dr. Bonnie Henry. (CSRD photo)
Mask use now required at CSRD office, public facilities

The mandate comes after Dr. Bonnie Henry strongly recommended their use

Mara Lake is one of the significant water resources across the Okanagan-Shuswap region that will fall under increasing sustainability pressure as the anticipated population growth for the region continues in this century. (File photo)
Okanagan Valley water supply sustainability reaching a critical point: Global expert

Global expert says Okanagan Basin Water Board offers sustainable path forward

Black Press file photo
Golden/Field crime rate drops for fourth straight year

The decrease was reported by Stats Canada, who recently released their yearly crime stats for B.C.

Over the years, Janice Blackie-Goodine’s home in Summerland has featured elaborate Halloween displays and decorations each October. (File photo)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about Halloween?

Oct. 31 is a night of frights. How much do you know about Halloween customs and traditions?

(City of Kelowna)
Proposed development on Kelowna farmland raises red flags

Developer proposes gas station, car wash, liquor store, commercial buildings, in agricultural area

Hiawatha RV Park will be demolished starting in February, to make room for a new condo development. Residents have four months to leave. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘I don’t know what to do’; Kelowna RV park resident pleas for eviction extension

Hiawatha RV Park residents have four months to leave the neighbourhood

Titled “Dutch Underground - Laren 1944,” Mineke Spencer’s parents Johanna and Albert Jan Koeslag (centre) sit with their 13 children, who ranged in age from seven (Minike) to 28. Mineke is the little girl with the big white bow in the front, left, beside sister Marie, also with a white bow. (Contributed)
Fearless allies: Shuswap woman reflects on childhood in Dutch Resistance

Mineke Spencer was three-years-old when Germany invaded her home in the Netherlands

FILE - In this Jan. 23, 1987 file photo, actor Sean Connery holds a rose in his hand as he talks about his new movie “The Name of the Rose” at a news conference in London. Scottish actor Sean Connery, considered by many to have been the best James Bond, has died aged 90, according to an announcement from his family. (AP Photo/Gerald Penny, File)
Actor Sean Connery, the ‘original’ James Bond, dies at 90

Oscar-winner was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Vernon Council voted in favour of implementing a 500-metre buffer between all new cannabis stores in the city at its meeting Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. (Black Press files)
New cannabis shops in Vernon will need to stay 500m apart

The distancing rule won’t apply to existing stores, including the six currently in downtown core

A fundraising initiative has been set up to help Mirjana Komljenovic, who has been diagnosed with Hermansky Pudlak Syndome and requires $2,000 a month to cover the costs of her medication. (gofundme.com)
Fundraiser created to help Summerland woman with rare condition

Mirjana Komljenovic requires costly medication to treat Hermansky Pudlak Syndome

Most Read