JUN 13, 2018 10:15 AM PDT

Can technology keep carbon out of the atmosphere?

A recent study published in the journal Joule has got the world giddy with a new development in technology that could have the potential to capture carbon for less than $100 a ton. The current price of capturing carbon is $600 per ton; with the latest innovation from Canadian company, Carbon Engineering, which uses pre-existing methods of direct air extraction, capturing carbon is about to become a whole lot cheaper.

Carbon capture technologies aim to mimic the ecological services of trees. Photo: The Nature Conservancy

Carbon Engineering was founded with support from Bill Gates and Norman Murray Edwards in 2009 and has been capturing one ton of carbon from the air every day since 2015.

So how does one actually capture carbon? As BBC News explains, the process begins by sucking air into a modified cooling tower with fans. In the cooling tower is a liquid (called the capturing liquid) that reacts with the CO2 in order to eventually produce an untainted stream of CO2. But that’s not the end game, according to Carbon Engineering. The company says they are then able to produce synthetic liquid fuels using a combination of the extracted CO2 and hydrogen derived from water via renewable energy.

"What Carbon Engineering is taking to market is first of all carbon-neutral fuels; in that sense, we are just another emissions-cutting technology – there is no net removal from the atmosphere," said Professor David Keith, a founder of the company.

The new method of producing liquid fuels uses fewer resources than biofuel technologies and has the same potential to make transportation more eco-friendly. The firm has said that in order to grow the technology, the government will need to provide more incentives for carbon capture. Hopefully, then, the company will be able to branch out and build more carbon-capturing and liquid-fuel-producing plants.

"This is a real step forward, and it's not just our company saying it," said Keith. "I hope this changes views about this technology from being this thing which people think is a magic savior which it isn't, or that it is absurdly expensive which it isn't, to an industrial technology that is do-able and can be developed in a useful way."

Sources: BBC, Joule

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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