When it comes to climate change and global heating, we’re all on board with a global shift towards clean, renewable energy. We’re also all behind protecting rainforests and planting more trees.
The problem is that these solutions will take time – decades – to reach the scale and efficacy needed to combat climate change and stop global heating.
We simply do not have decades and we need to stem the flow of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere before we reach the rapidly approaching threshold at which we can’t turn back.
So, what is the solution? Carbon capture companies are leading the way in the race against climate change and global heating.
They’re developing and deploying new, scalable, carbon capture technology that will enable us to stop the flow of carbon into the atmosphere and even remove the historical carbon dioxide that we’ve already emitted.
Today, we’re looking at carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technology and seven of the best carbon capture companies that are leading the way towards achieving our climate goals.
Let’s dive right in!
- 1 What is Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage?
- 2 Why Carbon Capture is Critical for Our Climate
- 3 7 Leading Carbon Capture Companies
- 4 Final Thoughts
- 5 References and Useful Resources
- 6 Frequently Asked Questions
What is Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage?
Carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS), also referred to simply as ‘carbon capture’, is the process we can use to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions at their source and prevent them from being released into the atmosphere.
CCUS involves capturing carbon, processing it into a suitable form, and then either transporting it for re-use or transferring it to suitable underground storage or sequestration sites. These sites vary and different technologies use different types of geologic formations as storage sites.
Common types include oil and gas reservoirs, coal seams that are unsuitable for mining, and deep saline reservoirs. The structures used to store carbon underground are the same ones that have naturally stored carbon, crude oil, natural gas, and other substances for millions of years.
Carbon storage is a safe and permanent solution, which removes carbon from the atmosphere and negates the greenhouse gas effect that drives global heating and climate change.
Check out this short video by Freethink on carbon capture technology and how it works:
Why Carbon Capture is Critical for Our Climate
It is well established that we need to move over to renewable energy and turn carbon dioxide emissions off at the source.
The problem is that we can’t do that quickly enough, at the scale needed to power the whole world and the ever-increasing demand for electricity and fuel.
In 2016, the Paris Agreement came into effect, intending to prevent global heating from increasing our temperature by more than 1.5 to 2C. If we had decades to achieve this, a steady shift to renewables would be the solution.
However, we do not have decades. We are rapidly running out of time and, at the rate we are currently producing greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide, we simply cannot meet that target.
Surpassing the 1.5C and even 2C rise in global temperatures will have catastrophic consequences for every form of life on earth. It will impact every single thing we, as a planet, rely on to survive.
As global populations increase and economies grow, the demand for electricity and fuel is also increasing.
This, coupled with the challenges of establishing renewable energy plants at the scale needed to meet demand, means we will be relying on fossil fuels for energy and transportation for many years to come.
So, what is the solution? How do we continue to power the world and all its essential processes for humanity, without pumping out so much carbon? How do we deal with all the carbon that is already out there in the atmosphere, after decades of negligence?
Accelerating the development and implementation of carbon capture technology is possibly our only viable option to stem the flow of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, as well as remove historical carbon to lessen the impact.
Carbon capture technology has been around for decades but it has not been widely adopted due to the cost of implementation and other limitations.
However, many great carbon capture companies have developed and refined their technology to create safe, effective, clean, and, most importantly, scalable solutions.
Let’s look at seven of the leading carbon capture companies in operation today and how they’re working to save the world:
7 Leading Carbon Capture Companies
These carbon capture companies are championing the fight to reduce carbon emissions from current sources of emissions, and combat the problem of historical carbon emissions that are already in our atmosphere.
Let’s look at them in more detail:
Carbfix is based in Iceland, where they have been an operation at the Hellisheiði Power Plant since 2014. In 2019, they were established as a subsidiary of Reykjavik Energy (OR) and have been operating as a separate entity since January 2020.
Their mission is to become a “key instrument in tackling the climate crisis by reaching one billion tons of permanently stored CO2 (1 GtCO2) as rapidly as possible”.
Location: Reykjavik, Iceland
Established: 2012-2014 Pilot Project, 2014 to Current – operational plant at the Hellisheiði Power Plant and taking on new projects from 2020.
Carbon Capture Technology Used: Carbfix captures carbon emissions at the source from the emitter (power plant or other industry). Carbon is then dissolved in water and injected underground, into naturally occurring reactive rock formations of suitable composition (basalt).
Here, the carbon reacts with elements that are naturally present to form stable minerals. These stable minerals provide a permanent carbon sink and over time they turn to stone.
This process was thought to take hundreds of years to occur, however, the Carbfix pilot project undertaken in 2012 showed that they were able to achieve the desired result within two years.
This makes their technology unique and highly effective in capturing carbon and storing it in a safe, stable, and permanent manner.
Global Thermostat was established in the US in 2010. Their patented technology captures and concentrates carbon directly from the atmosphere and/or from industrial emissions. It can then be sold to various industries that can re-use it in their manufacturing processes.
This approach makes carbon capture a profitable endeavor, rather than a financial liability for the emitting body. It also makes it a potential business operation for those who wish to capture atmospheric carbon and sell it to industries that need it.
Their modular system allows for individual plants to be erected in any location, without the geological limitations that carbon storage technologies face.
Location: New York, United States
Carbon Capture Technology Used: According to their website, Global Thermostat uses specialized equipment proprietary amine-based (dry) chemical ‘sorbents’, which are bonded to honeycomb ceramic ‘monoliths’.
The ceramic monoliths, coated with the dry amine-based sorbents soak up or absorb carbon from the surrounding atmosphere. This may be directly from open-air or concentrated emission sites like flues or smokestacks.
They then strip the carbon back out of the monoliths and collect it using low-temperature steam (85-100C). This results in 98% pure carbon, which can be transferred to locations where it is needed by other industries.
Ideally, the steam used is generated by residual or process heat from the operation of the site where carbon is being collected, which means that no new energy is required for the process and reduces the cost of operation.
As a modular system, their technology can be established alongside new and existing plants or industries that are heavy carbon emitters or alongside plants that need the captured carbon for their operations. This reduces the need for pipelines and reduces the risk of leakage, as well as the cost of implementation and operation.
CO2 Solutions by SAIPEM
CO2 Solutions by SAIPEM is based in Quebec, Canada. They were established in 1997 and have since developed a unique carbon capture technology that was inspired by the human lung.
Their technology uses an industrial form of the natural enzyme called carbonic anhydrase (CA), which is present in all animals and plants. The enzyme is what allows us to breathe, by managing the carbon we breathe in.
Over the last 20 years, they have perfected and patented their technology to allow for up to 99.95% of carbon to the captured from industrial smokestacks and power plant emissions. The carbon is then transferred to nearby operations that need carbon, such as agricultural greenhouses.
Location: Quebec, Canada
Established: 1997 (first commercial application in 2016)
Carbon Capture Technology Used: According to their website, CO2 Solution’s carbon capture process uses a patented “industrial form of carbonic anhydrase, a natural enzyme that enables respiratory carbon management in all living organisms”.
Their technology allows for carbon to be captured from installations or sites that produce it as a waste product and then re-used or converted in the industries that need it.
Operations that need carbon to operate but also produce carbon emissions can use the technology to capture their own emissions and then re-use the carbon, which eliminates their greenhouse gas emissions and saves money in the process. The technology is efficient, economical, and produces no toxic waste or emissions.
Net Power is based in Durham, North Carolina in the United States. Their technology development began in 2008 as an exercise in developing low-cost power that did not produce any carbon emissions.
They developed a new power cycle called the Allam-Fetvedt Cycle and from that NET Power was born in 2010. NET Power aims to meet all 2050 power goals with natural gas power plants that are semi-closed loop and CO2-powered with the Allam-Fetvedt Cycle.
Location: Durham, North Carolina, United States
Carbon Capture Technology Used: NET Power’s electricity is generated by burning natural gas in the presence of pure oxygen, rather than air. This is more efficient and eliminates nitrogen oxide (NOX) emissions from the process.
The carbon that is released from the burning of the natural gas is then recycled through a series of steps that heat, cool, and compress it to result in low-cost and emission-free electricity.
Carbon can then be recycled back into the plant for use and excess can be piped away for re-use by other industries. This adds financial incentive to use the method, in addition to the inherent low-cost production model.
Where there are no local industries that require carbon, the excess can be safely sequestered underground.
Quest Carbon Capture and Storage by Shell
Quest is Shell’s carbon capture plant at their Scotford Upgrader power plant in Alberta, Canada. It is run and owned by Shell, who use it to remove the carbon they generate at the power plant converting bitumen from sand into oil.
The carbon is then piped to a separate location and injected 2km underground into permeable geologic formations where it stays permanently.
Location: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Carbon Capture Technology Used: Quest is in use at Shell’s plant called the Scotford Upgrader, where they make crude oil from the bitumen found in sand. The oil-making process requires hydrogen to make the oil lighter but with this comes carbon dioxide emissions.
To combat this, Shell installed Quest to capture the carbon and pipe it away in liquid form to the injected and stored underground.
Quest’s technology is fairly simple and uses an amine to absorb carbon. The carbon is then separated from the amine and compressed. This turns the CO2 gas into a liquid, which is then piped away to be injected into porous underground rock formations.
The liquid CO2 is piped 65km away from the plant through various well sites and then injected over 2km underground, unto suitable porous rock formations. Here, it will remain for thousands of years and is considered a permanent solution.
Climeworks is a carbon capture company based in Zurich, Switzerland, and was established in 2009. However, their technology has been in development since 2007.
Climeworks is the largest company offering carbon capture services that capture carbon directly from the air and they’re currently building a new direct air capture plant called Orca in Iceland.
They’re using their own technology to capture CO2 and then using Carbfix’s technology for underground storage. The plant aims to capture 4000 tons of CO₂ per year – making it the world’s biggest climate-positive facility to date. In addition to Orca, they have over 6500 smaller plants in operation with various partners.
Location: Zurich, Switzerland
Carbon Capture Technology Used: Climeworks uses modular CO2 collectors that capture carbon dioxide directly from the air to remove unavoidable CO2 emissions, as well as historic CO₂ emissions. The collectors can be stacked to create machines of various sizes, as suited to the location and end-use of the carbon collected.
Climeworks’ carbon collectors use a two-step process, where the air is drawn into the collector by a fan, where it is collected on the surface of a special filter material that is inside the collector. The next step takes place when the filter is full and the collector closes. Once it is closed, the temperature is raised to 80-100C, which releases the carbon. It is then collected in its pure and highly concentrated form, ready to be piped away for re-use or underground storage.
The Orca plant in Iceland uses the storage technology by Carbfix, where CO2 is mixed with water and injected into basalt rock formations. There is mineralizes and forms rock, locking the carbon in place, within a few years.
Climeworks collectors are powered using renewable energy or energy-from-waste. Their grey emission is under 10%, which is a very low level of re-emission.
Carbon Engineering was established in 2009, in Calgary, Canada. They moved to Squamish in 2015, where they built their pilot plant to capture carbon directly from the atmosphere and either store it safely underground or convert it to synthetic fuel.
Carbon Engineering has since partnered with companies in the US and the UK to collect and sequester atmospheric carbon, as well as companies around the world to produce clean fuel from the carbon they collect.
Location: Squamish, British Colombia, Canada
Carbon Capture Technology Used: Carbon Engineering uses an air contactor, where the air is pulled in by a huge fan and passes over thin plastic structures that are coated in a potassium hydroxide solution.
This solution removes carbon from the air and binds the carbon into a liquid solution, where it remains as a carbonate salt. The air is then released, minus the carbon.
The solution containing the carbonate salt is then run through a series of chemical processes that purify it, concentrate it, and compress it.
Carbonate salts are separated from the solution into pellets, which are then heated in a calciner to release a pure carbon gas that can be reused or stored underground.
The remaining pellets are then hydrated and recycled back into the system to make the original capture chemical.
In conclusion, some great carbon capture companies are doing great work to prevent current carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere, as well as removing unavoidable and historic carbon directly from the air.
While eliminating carbon emissions by replacing emitting activities with renewable energy technology is the ideal solution, it will take decades to achieve. Decades that we do not have in the race against global heating.
Carbon capture and storage is a viable and essential solution to combat historical emissions and stem the flow of current emissions, as we prepare ourselves to move over to renewables and scale those operations to meet an ever-increasing global demand for energy.
References and Useful Resources
2021 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: The Paris Agreement
Center for Climate and Energy Solutions: Carbon Capture
NASA’s Global Climate Change Website: A Degree of Concern: Why Global Temperatures Matter – Part 1 and Part 2
Scientific American: Carbon Capture Technologies Are Improving Nicely
Frequently Asked Questions
What is carbon capture, utilization and storage?
Carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) involves capturing carbon dioxide (CO2), processing it into a suitable form, and then either transporting it for re-use or transferring it to suitable underground storage or sequestration sites. These sites vary and different technologies use different types of geologic formations as storage sites. Read the full article for more info.
Why do we need carbon capture technology?
Carbon capture technology allows us to capture CO2 emissions and either transform them into useful CO2 to use in industry or transfer them back into the earth, where they are safely stored deep underground. Carbon sequestration happens in nature all the time but we need carbon capture technology to speed up the process so that we can stop climate change in the little time we have left to do it. Read the full article for more info.
What are the best carbon capture companies?
There are loads of great, innovative carbon capture companies in operation. Seven of the best are:
4. NET Power
5. Global Thermostat
6. Carbon Engineering
7. CO2 Solutions
Read the full article for more info on each of these great companies and the carbon capture technology they use.