Without a doubt, the coronavirus pandemic still remains one of the most talked about subjects of 2020. It’s destructive impact on people’s health, work life, families and finances was devastating for so many individuals across the globe.

Whilst the list of negatives that have arisen as a result of the pandemic continue to grow, many have seen a positive and are now pathing ways for the world’s green recovery plans, as it looks to recover in a post-pandemic world.

As a result of lockdowns, airlines grounded their fleets, car travel was brought to a minimum and industries shut down, leading to levels of carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions plummeting. This didn’t go unnoticed and today, the effort being made to keep such emissions down has arguably never been stronger.

With many industries now fully operational, flights back in service and more car, buses, and trucks returning to the road, it is clear that investment now needs to be made in ground-breaking technologies to help keep carbon emission down as we return to some form of normality.

Steve Oldham, CEO of Canada-based Carbon Engineering believes that its direct air capture technology (DAC) has a big role to play in this effort globally, even in hard to abate sectors. 

“DAC allows you to actively eliminate an emission by removing the CO₂ once it has been emitted,” Oldham explained to gasworld in an exclusive interview. “What that means is that if you have a hard to abate sector, for example the aviation industry, you can begin to decarbonise it.”

“The big challenge that we have with climate change is the legacy CO₂. Of the CO₂ that pushes our climate beyond an acceptable level, 95% of it is already in the atmosphere,” he said.

“Eliminating emissions stops the problem getting worse, but then we have to deal with all the CO₂ that we have emitted in the previous years. That’s where our DAC technology comes into play.”

Carbon Engineering last year made a huge advancement with its DAC commitment, when it announced that it had begun the engineering and design of the world’s largest DAC plant, located in the Permian Basin, Southwestern US.

Currently being engineered in partnership with a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, the plant will capture one-megatonne of CO₂ each year – the equivalent to the work of 40 million trees.

“Of course, unlike trees that eventually die and return their CO₂ to the atmosphere, the DAC captured CO₂ can be stored underground permanently,” Oldham explained.

“We’re deeply into the design on the plant. We’ve put in something like 40,000-man hours of work on the design and recently we published a rendering 3D model of what the plant will look like. We will likely start construction next year and it will go operational in 2024.”

“Our expectation is that it will be the first of many plants in that region. The first one is always the hardest, but once you’ve got the first one done, the others are a lot easier.”

Recent developments

In a company update released this Summer, Carbon Engineering announced that it had signed a licensing agreement with 1PointFive, a new development company formed by Oxy Low Carbon Ventures and Rusheen Capital Management, that will enable the commercial development of Carbon Engineering’s DAC technology in the US.

The partnership’s first commercial plant, that is currently being engineered, is a major step towards 1PointFive’s ambition of delivering the technology on an industrial scale throughout the US. 1PointFive aims to reduce the amount of CO₂ in the atmosphere through the deployment of Carbon Engineering’s DAC technology.

Explaining the reasoning behind the partnership, Oldham said that as a small company, Carbon Engineering needed the backing of a larger company to help finance and build the DAC plant. “Occidental decided that the way they wanted to do this was through a financing company.”

“1PointFive is currently in the process of raising financing and then it will be the owner of that first plant. The team will then work with Carbon Engineering and Occidental to build the plant and operate it.” 

“We hope that 1PointFive will build many, many plants across the US as business develops.”

Just one month after its 1PointFive announcement, Carbon Engineering was once again in the spotlight with a new partnership with Shopify who said it will be the first purchaser of its carbon removal solutions.

“Shopify is Canada’s most valuable company in the internet-based world. They came to us about a year ago to ask about how they could support bringing our technology to market. They recognise that climate change is a real problem and want to support technologies that can make a big difference,” Oldham explained.

“Through the partnership they’re going to take the CO₂ out of our Innovation Centre in British Columbia, in other words they’re buying the removal of carbon from the atmosphere. Shopify were really keen to support, so that was the basis of the relationship.”

Speaking to gasworld about the newly developed relationship with Shopify, Oldham said he hopes it will make other companies act in a similar way. “We are seeing more and more companies announce net-zero targets, but they need technology to get there,” he said.

“Companies like Shopify are the real trailblazers and we really hope and expect more companies to get on board as time moves forward. The smart ones will start sooner rather than later.”