The Climate Hype Of 2022; CarbonTech
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s 2018 report, the carbon budget will need to be significantly reduced in the next 15 years to avert the existential threat of a climate disaster. Trees, soil, and oceans have been unable to keep up with humanity’s hunger for creating CO2 over the past 150 years, resulting in excess CO2 being discharged into the atmosphere as waste. This carbon build-up has caused tangible impacts such as the recent California fires and severe storms across the US.
One promising path that aims to reduce the global carbon budget is CarbonTech, which aims to develop technologies that increase the rate of removal of man-made CO2. Capturing and utilizing carbon allows for the production of high-value products from CO2 waste, creating a market value for carbon, that until now, policymakers have not been able to commercialise.
Net-zero targets and rising corporate support of CarbonTech and carbon removal technologies are, at large, one of the drivers as to why CO2 is finally finding its market value. With new terms, such as ‘CCUS’ and ‘carbon-to-value’ coming to light, we investigate GreenTech’s newest hype.
What Is CarbonTech?
Removing carbon from the atmosphere focuses on two main areas; CarbonTech and carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS).
CarbonTech, also known as ‘carbon-to-value’, is a term coined by Carbon 180 that rewards technologies that capture excess CO2 and use it to make high-value products at a market price. In the past, extracting carbon from the atmosphere concentrated on storing carbon in underground caverns at enormous expense. Without a reliable carbon pricing mechanism, this became a money sink as much as a carbon sink. Now, CarbonTech not only presents an opportunity to address a global challenge, but it also makes a strong return at the same time.
CCUS is the process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide before it is released into the atmosphere. Capturing up to 90% of CO2, CCUS technologies are one of the few solutions to tackle emissions from heavy industry.
Capturing CO2 is achieved either by post-combustion, which captures CO2 from flue gases that result from burning fossil fuels, or pre-combustion, which captures CO2 before burning fossil fuels. It is then compressed into a liquid state and transported by pipeline, ship or road tanker. CO2 can then be pumped underground, usually at depths of 1km or more, to be stored in depleted oil and gas reservoirs, coalbeds or deep saline aquifers. At present, there are about 20 CCUS projects operating commercially, nowhere near enough to clean up the world’s carbon emissions.
Some of the industries benefiting from CarbonTech include:
- Building Materials – a growing number of companies are attempting to revolutionise concrete and steel production by using carbon-free materials. CarbonCure is one such company that has developed concrete free of carbon that is 10% stronger.
- Agriculture and Aquaculture – Anaerobic digesters are a well-established AgTech technology that efficiently uses agricultural methane as a fuel source. CO2 is innovatively being used in Asian markets to speed up the growth of algae for use as feedstock in fish farms.
- Synthetic Fuels – Despite the fact that they are more expensive than fossil fuels and ultra-low-carbon biofuels, CO2 can be used to make synthetic fuels that do not emit CO2. LanzaTech, for example, creates climate-friendly materials and fuels.
- Chemicals and Plastics – Carbon and carbon dioxide can be substituted for existing feedstocks in polyethene and polypropylene to produce an excellent, low-cost product.
How Is CO2 Captured?
Technologies separating and capturing CO2 from the atmosphere have been commercially available for many decades. Chemical absorption and physical separation are the most advanced and extensively used capture systems; additional technologies include membranes and looping cycles such as chemical looping or calcium looping.
- Chemical absorption – The most advanced CO2 separation technique, based on the reaction of CO2 with a chemical solvent, such as ethanolamine compounds.
- Physical separation – Physical adsorption makes use of a solid surface (e.g. activated carbon), while physical absorption makes use of a liquid solvent (e.g. Selexol or Rectisol). After capture by means of an adsorbent, CO2 is released by increasing temperature or pressure.
- Membrane separation – Based on polymeric or inorganic devices with high CO2 selectivity, which lets CO2 pass through but act as barriers to retain the other gases in the gas stream.
How Is CO2 Transported?
The two main possibilities for transporting large-scale transport of CO₂ are via pipeline and ship. Pipelines are the most cost-effective method, which has been used for many years and is already in use on a wide scale, such as North America’s 8,000-kilometer onshore CO2 pipeline network.
CO2 transportation by ship offers greater flexibility than pipelines, particularly where there is more than one offshore storage facility available. The flexibility of shipping can also help with the initial establishment of CO2 capture hubs whilst being a cost-effective mode of transport, particularly for long-distance transfer in nations with limited domestic storage capacity.
How Is CO2 Stored?
Storing CO2 involves the injection of captured CO2 into a deep underground reservoir of porous rock topped by an impermeable layer of rocks, which seals the reservoir and prevents CO2 from ‘leaking’ into the atmosphere. There are several reservoirs suitable for CO2 storage, with deep saline formations and depleted oil and gas reservoirs having the largest capacity.
Global CO2 storage resources are thought to be well in excess of projected future requirements. However, in many regions, further assessment is required to convert theoretical storage capacity into ‘bankable’ storage to support CCUS investment.
The current CCUS projects around the world are pinned on the below global map:
How Does CCUS Support Carbon Removal?
CCUS technologies can remove CO2 from the atmosphere to compensate for emissions from sectors where net-zero are neither economically nor technically viable. Such technologies achieve this in two ways:
Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) – involves capturing and permanently storing CO2 from processes where biomass is burned to generate energy. A biomass-fuelled power plant fitted with CCUS is one example.
Direct Air Capture (DAC) – involves the capture of CO2 from the atmosphere directly. The CO2 can be used in synthetic fuels as a climate-neutral CO2 feedstock, or it can be permanently stored for carbon removal.
A Trillion Dollar Opportunity
CarbonTech is very much in the spotlight regarding the statistics that underscore the potential impact the sector can have on the planet’s future. Carbon180, a non-profit organization, estimates the total addressable market for products that could be affected is $6 trillion, with transportation fuels and building materials offering the biggest opportunities for using ‘waste CO2’.
According to a report published by Circular Carbon Network (CCN), 65% of the 330 innovators working on carbon removal or carbon value started after 2010, with 135 raising $2.2 billion.
“What you are seeing is an accelerating pace of interest and activity. This market is going to either be very large or ginormous”, says Nicholas Eisenberger, Managing Director at Pure Energy Partners and Co-Founder of CCN.
The past few years have also seen buy-in from companies who are striving to turn back the clock and make an environmental impact. The digital payments company, Stripe, announced a plan in 2020 to let its customers divert a portion of their revenue to carbon removal projects. The move follows Stripe’s own pledge to put $1 million into four “high potential” ventures, such as are carbon-sequestering concrete, CarbonCure, geologic storage, Charm Industrial, direct air capture, Climeworks, and ocean mineralization, Project Vesta.
The commerce player, Shopify, also announced carbon removal and carbontech as a focus for its Sustainability Fund, which commits $5 million annually to climate-tech solutions, whilst Microsoft unveiled one of its most unique investments to date as it strives to deliver on its pledge to become a carbon negative company. Partnering with SkyNRG, which produces sustainable aviation fuel from waste oil and agricultural residue, Microsoft plans to supply Alaska Airlines with fuel for its three most popular routes flown by its employees between Seattle and Silicon Valley.
As companies such as these scale up their offerings, CarbonTech entrepreneurs can only envisage a day not so far into the future when cars, shoes or cocktails will all be made from waste products that were once threatening to ruin the planet in 2022.
Being an award-winning GreenTech recruitment partner, we specialise in CarbonTech recruitment and have an unparalleled network of CarbonTech veterans who hold a wealth of experience to supercharge this emerging sector. Get in contact with one of our specialist consultants to express your interest in scaling your CarbonTech startup.