Can Companies Turn Carbon Pollution into Profit?

industrial plant emissions

by | Oct 14, 2016

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industrial plant emissionsCorporations, as well as cities and countries, are looking for ways to slash their emissions to meet the requirements under the Paris climate deal, which takes effect next month.

A new study, however, says the US will likely fail to meet these international climate commitments, while another says removing carbon from the air is the only way to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Global Thermostat says it provides this “carbon negative” solution. The company says its technologies actively captures CO2 from the air, as opposed to being attached to a coal-fired power plant. Global Thermostat plants can be integrated with fossil fuel and renewable energy plants as well as manufacturing facilities. And once the CO2 has been removed from the surrounding air, it can then be sold to other corporations for use as a power source or feed stock, thus turning pollution into profit.

Global Thermostat says there’s a $1 trillion annual market for CO2, which is used in multiple industrial processes. One new study puts the global carbon fiber reinforced plastic market alone at nearly $28 billion by 2024, growing at an annual rate of 12.5 percent.

“When you take CO2 out of the air and sell it for any of these materials — synthetic fuel, turn it into carbon fiber, sell it to food and beverage companies — we can take it out of the air for less than it costs to sell it,” said Global Thermostat’s Ben Bronfman in an interview.

Bronfman won’t say how much a GT plant will cost, but says the technology will cost less than the sale price of carbon.

“Air capture has the potential to not only get out of this [global warming] mess, but also lead us to the road of serious economic prosperity,” he said.

The Global Thermostat’s pilot plant capturing carbon from the air has been operating at SRI International in California since 2010. Bronfman says the company is moving into a commercial phase and will soon announce “some really exciting commercial relationships.”

The GT plants work like this: they use proprietary technology to absorb CO2 directly from the atmosphere, from smokestacks or a combination of both. The captured carbon is stripped off and collected using low-cost leftover process heat. The entire process consumes only steam and electricity and it doesn’t create any emissions or other effluents. The output is 98 percent pure CO2.

While traditional carbon capture and storage requires massive amounts of energy, and that can be very expensive — the cost of electricity can increase by up to 80 percent when applying commercial capture technologies to coal-fired power plant — Global Thermstat says its technology drastically cuts the cost of reducing CO2 pollution.

Lux Research analyst Yuan-Sheng Yu says Global Thermostat has been on the research firm’s radar for the past few years.

“Despite having a pilot facility in Menlo Park, CA, we still remain skeptical about the company’s ability to commercialize its technology and achieve its cost milestones it projects to achieve at commercial scale. But, the involvement of numerous strong players from the gas and materials sectors do give Global Thermostat a leg up on other ambient air CO2 capture companies.”

Global Thermostat’s technology partners are SRI International and Georgia Tech and it uses BASF, Applied Catalysts and Haldor-Topsoe membranes, “which will all increase its chances at successfully scaling up,” Yu says. “Global Thermostat is definitely one of the leaders today and with the bold cost claims that would give it an extremely clear competitive advantage over any peers, this is definitely a company to watch closely and see the progress of these facilities.”

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