Explain the problem of greenhouse gases to a little kid, and
her solution might be a set of
giant fans that suck them out
of the air and bury them underground. Such a fanciful fix is
real—in fact, it’s the business
model of Carbon Engineering,
a startup with audacious
ambitions based in scenic
Squamish, British Columbia.
Scientists have known how to
remove carbon dioxide from
the air for decades. The problem
has been making that process
economically feasible. But 10
years ago, founder David Keith,
then a physicist at the University
of Calgary, developed a direct
air capture system that not only
isolates carbon more efficiently,
but also turns it into synthetic
fuels, first by converting CO2 into pellets of calcium carbon-
ate. The pellets are then heated
to produce pure CO2 gas that is
converted into synthetic, carbon-
neutral fuel for trains, ships, and
planes. Captured carbon that
isn’t used for fuel can be pushed
underground to extract oil.
Powered by an investment from
Bill Gates, the company began
producing fuel at its pilot plant
near Vancouver in 201 7. Perhaps
not surprisingly, Chevron and
Occidental Petroleum participated in Carbon’s most recent,
$68 million funding round.
The company will look to raise
even more money to build
its first full-scale plant—which,
at a price of around $500
million, would offset the annual
carbon emittance of 250,000
vehicles.;That’s why CEO Steve
Oldham sees another potential
client: governments. “One day,”
he says, “they’ll realize that we
have to do pure sequestration
to solve the climate problem.
When that happens, the costs
will come down—and our technology will be ready.” —K.J.R.
excessive monthly bills—and burning more fossil fuels.
Agard and another volunteer, Johnnie LaCaze, saw
the pattern repeat when they joined a Clinton Foundation
program that did home repairs. In 2015, they formed
EEtility, a Little Rock–based startup that works with utilities
to finance e;ciency upgrades—often as simple as new insulation and caulking. Then, a formula applies: Say a customer
was paying $200 monthly but now uses only $100 worth
of energy. His bill might decrease to $180 monthly, with
$80 going to the utility and EEtility. Once the financing is
paid o;, the utility bill could then fall to $100.
For EEtility, the key is proving that the math works.
Using remotely monitored tools that identify a property’s
drafty spots and other ine;ciencies, the startup can quantify
a return on investment. “We’re taking the guesswork out of
the equation. We’re also taking the environmental part out
of the equation,” Agard says. “We can have a conversation
with the utility company that’s just about numbers.”
EEtility is working with utility cooperatives in North
Carolina and Tennessee and has other projects, generally
in areas with low income and little access to cleaner energy
sources. “This is something that makes financial sense for
everybody,” Agard says. “And we happen to benefit society
and the environment along the way.” —K.J.R.
“This is something that
makes ;nancial sense.
And we happen to bene;t
society and the environment
along the way.”
64; INC. ; MAY 2019 ; ; ;; ; ;
Carbon Engineering How do your recycle pollution? By grabbing CO2 from thin air— and converting it to carbon-neutral fuels.