Carbon Engineering Says It Can Recycle Co2 From The Air

The scientific consensus on climate warming is it’s real, it’s likely due to human activity, and that it’s a growing threat to life on Earth.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

CE’s direct air capture equipment. Shown are the calciner (left) and air contactor (right).

The scientific consensus on climate warming is it’s real, it’s likely due to human activity, and that it’s a growing threat to life on Earth.

One reason for climate change is the amount of carbon dioxide humanity has introduced into the atmosphere. CO2 levels are now higher than at any time during the last 800,000 years. Carbon dioxide absorbs heat energy from the sun that would otherwise be lost. The more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the more heat is retained.

Now a team of scientists from Harvard University and the company Carbon Engineering claim they’ve discovered a way to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Their research was recently published in Joule, an American scientific journal. Capturing carbon dioxide from the air isn’t new technology. But experts have previously estimated it would cost at least US$600 to remove a metric ton of carbon dioxide. Carbon Engineering says it can do the same for US$94 to US$232.

The Bill Gates-backed company says their method has already been tested on a small plant in British Columbia. Brielyy explained; outside air is sucked into a factory and exposed to an alkaline liquid.

The liquid, now containing carbon dioxide from the outside air, undergoes a round of chemical treatments. The carbon dioxide is combined with hydrogen and converted into liquid fuels, like gasoline and diesel.

When burned for energy, Carbon Engineering’s fuel would still release carbon dioxide back into the air. But because the carbon dioxide was recycled from the atmosphere, it wouldn’t be adding more back into the environment.

Carbon Engineering is now seeking funding to build an industrial version of its plant, which it says can be completed by 2021.

My Reading Room

CE’s direct air capture pilot plant in Squamish, B.C. Shown are the air contactor (foreground) and calciner (upper left).

My Reading Room

Rendering of CE’s air contactor design. This unit would be one of several that would collectively capture 1M tonnes of CO2 per year.

My Reading Room

CE’s pilot pellet reactor and associated equipment.

My Reading Room

CE’s clean fuel, synthesized from carbon dioxide captured from the air and hydrogen split from water.

My Reading Room

Graphical representation of a facility that would use CE’s ‘Air to Fuels’ process to manufacture roughly 250 barrels per day of clean burning synthetic fuel.


Carbon Engineering’s efforts are a form of ‘geoengineering.’ Proponents of geoengineering argue that climate change has progressed beyond return and can only be reversed using technology. Ideas range from burying large amounts of charcoal to lock carbon in the soil, firing aerosols into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight, and so on.

But geoengineering opponents argue that we can’t predict the side effects of changing a massive ecosystem that we don’t fully understand. They argue that the means of halting climate change are known, can be acted on, and don’t need to be invented: cut carbon emissions, switch to clean energy sources, and preserve natural environments.