Carbon-capture technology holds much promise for helping the world to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere and mitigate the effects of global warming. It works by trapping the carbon dioxide at its emission source, transporting it to a storage location — often deep underground — and isolating it. However, most carbon-capture techniques developed to date are uneconomic because they consume too much energy to sequester the carbon.
But a company called Global Thermostat (GT) says it’s found a solution. The company, started in 2010, has developed a proprietary technology that uses low-cost leftover process heat to grab CO2 pollution from power plants, which can then be sold back to other companies as a power source.
In this way, GT says its offering could help make new or legacy fossil fuel power plants more eco-friendly. It can also be used at cement smelters, refineries and other industrial operations. The technology turns the traditional equation of "more energy equals more emissions" on its head — in this case, more energy produced equals more carbon reduced. Energy typically accounts for over two-thirds the total operating cost of competing carbon-capture technologies — GT’s solution dramatically lowers the cost of reducing carbon emissions.
Global Thermostat estimates that its process can remove 5 pounds of CO2 per kWh of electricity, as opposed to U.S. coal-fired power stations which currently emit 2 pounds of CO2 for every kWh of electricity created.
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Once captured, GT says, the carbon dioxide can either be stored in geologically appropriate underground formations, incorporated into materials such as cement and plastic for various commercial applications or sold for carbon tax credits. It can also be sold to companies such as McDonald's or Coca-Cola for beverage carbonation purposes. When fed to algae, captured carbon can also enhance the production of ethanol and other biofuels without competing with food production. An advantage for GT’s technology is that it does not require the costly transport of carbon.
The company is led by CEO & co-founder Graciela Chichilnisky, whose reputation as a sustainability leader precedes her — she was the architect of the Kyoto Protocol's carbon market, the lead author on the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that won a Nobel Prize and supposedly even created the term "sustainable development." The company’s other co-founder, Peter Eisenberger, founded the Earth Institute at Columbia University.
“The company has one objective — which is to take CO2 from the air, and transform it into cash,” Chichilnisky said in a recent phone interview. “The purpose is to make commercialization and the profit motive help clean the atmosphere.”
Chichilnisky said GT currently has two commercial-sized pilot plants at the Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, California, and has entered a deal with NRG Energy — one of the largest independent power plant companies in the United States — to help clean the carbon dioxide from their power plants. They are also working with companies such as German firm Linde — one of the largest carbon polluters in the world.
Looking forward into 2015, GT is looking to continue expanding its presence in the commercial space by working with its several partners, as well as identifying and securing new ones.
Carbon-capture technology can also be used to turn carbon dioxide into solid, usable products. Late last year, Skyonic Corporation opened the world’s first commercial-scale carbon-capture and -utilization facility in San Antonio, Texas, which can turn CO2 into everyday items such as baking soda, bleach and hydrochloric acid.
Carbon dioxide has become a business liability — decreasing a firm’s value by $212,000 for every 1,000 metric tons produced, according to a 2013 KPMG report. To address this, London-based Carbon Analytics (CA) is developing an online platform that makes it quick and easy for companies to measure and manage the carbon footprint of their supply chains — where 75 percent of a typical organization's carbon footprint comes from. The platform uses a three-stage process to apply its environmental models to derive meaningful, actionable insight from purchasing data.