A pair of climate tech startups plan to suck a huge amount of carbon dioxide out of the air and trap it underground in Wyoming. The goal of the new effort called bison projectis to build a new facility capable of extracting 5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually by 2030. The CO2 can be stored deep in the Earth, keeping it out of the atmosphere, where it would have continued to warm the planet. .
A Los Angeles-based company called CarbonCapture is building the facility called a direct air capture (DAC) plan that is expected to start operations next year. It will start small and work up to 5 million metric tons a year. If all goes well by 2030, the operation will be much larger than existing direct air capture projects.
“Project Bison would be the largest single project announced to date, both nationally and internationally.” Peter Minor, director of science and innovation for the nonprofit organization Carbon180 advocating carbon removal, he said in an email.
Larger orders of magnitude
At this time, there is only 18 DAC plants worldwide. Combined, they can only capture about 0.01 million metric tons of CO2 per year. The largest DAC and carbon storage facility yet, called Orca, just came online in Iceland in September 2021. And even that facility is relatively small. It can extract around 4,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year, almost as much climate pollution as is generated annually by 790 gas-guzzling passenger vehicles.
CarbonCapture’s equipment is modular, which is what the company says makes the technology easy to scale. The plant itself will be made of modules that look like stacks of shipping containers with vents through which air passes. Initially, the modules used for Project Bison will be manufactured at CarbonCapture’s headquarters in Los Angeles. In the first phase of the project, which is expected to end next year, about 25 modules will be deployed in Wyoming. Those modules collectively They have the capacity to remove about 12,000 tons of CO2 per year from the air. The plan is to deploy more modules in Wyoming over time and potentially manufacture the modules there as well one day.
“It’s just this idea of being able to build something offsite, easily ship it to site, and then assemble it like a Lego system onsite,” says Adrian Corless, CEO and CTO of CarbonCapture.
Inside each of the 40-foot modules are some 16 “reactors” with “absorbent cartridges” that essentially act as filters that draw in CO2. The filters they capture about 75 percent of the CO2 from the air that passes over them. In about 30 to 40 minutes, the filters have absorbed as much CO2 as they can. Once the filters are fully saturated, the reactor is shut down so the filters can be heated to remove CO2. There are many reactors within a module, each running at its own rate, so they are constantly collecting CO2. Together, they generate concentrated streams of CO2 that can then be compressed and sent directly to underground wells for storage.
The process comes with costs. DAC is still very expensive – can cost upwards of $600 capture a ton of carbon dioxide. That number is expected to drop over time as technology advances. But for now, it takes a lot of energy to run DAC plants, which contributes to the high price. Filters need to reach around 185 degrees Fahrenheit (85 degrees Celsius) for a few minutes, and getting to that kind of high temperature for DAC plants can be quite energy consuming. Eventually, Corless says, Bison plans to get enough power from new wind and solar installations. When the project is running at full capacity in 2030, it is expected to use the equivalent of around 2 GW of solar energy per year. For comparison, about 3 million photovoltaic panels together generate one gigawatt of solar power, according to the Department of Energy.
But initially, the power used by Project Bison might have to come from natural gas, according to Corless. So Bison would first need to capture enough CO2 to cancel out the amount of emissions it generates from burning that gas. prior to can continue to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.
CarbonCapture has partnered with Dallas-based company Frontier Carbon Solutions to take care of the carbon storage side. If Project Bison comes to fruition, it would be the first direct air capture project in the US to use “Class VI wells” designed specifically for the permanent storage of CO2.
The geology in Wyoming allows Project Bison to store the CO2 captured on site near the modules. Project Bison plans to permanently store the CO2 it captures underground. Specifically, project leaders seek to store it 12,000 feet below ground in “saline aquifers” — rock areas that are saturated with salt water. “It’s protected from going back up through the cap rock and the geology that sits on top of this,” says Corless.
For now, the Project Bison developers don’t know where the project will be located in Wyoming. “There’s a danger that talking about it publicly could affect the actual certification process,” Corless says, referring to the certifications the project would need to inject the CO2 into Class VI wells.
The Biden administration and Wyoming lawmakers are encouraging the growth of the carbon removal industry
Both the Biden administration and Wyoming lawmakers are encouraging the growth of the carbon removal industry. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Act that passed last year includes $3.5 billion to build four “regional hubs” for direct air capture. And the Inflation Reduction Lawwhat happened this year, to a great extent expand tax credits for carbon removal projects.
“It had a huge impact,” Corless says of the Inflation Reduction Act. “It was an acceleration. It certainly made us rethink the scale of the project and how quickly we would scale this project.”
In 2021, Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon set a goal of making the state “carbon negatives.” That means it would capture more CO2 emissions than it releases, a tough job since Wyoming is the larger coal-producing state in the nation. Gordon argues that the state can remain a fossil fuel powerhouse while meeting its climate goal, which would make carbon capture and removal essential. Unsurprisingly, the potential for carbon removal technologies to extend the reign of fossil fuels has gained criticism of grassroots environmental groups.
To avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change, the the world’s leading climate scientists they have found that we need to prevent global warming from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. We’ve already reached 1.2 degrees of warming, and that’s leading to more massive storms, devastating wildfires, and deadly heat waves.
DAC is not a replacement for preventing greenhouse gas emissions in the first place
Because human activity has already polluted the atmosphere with so much CO2, removing some of that carbon has become “inevitable” if the world is to avoid exceeding that 1.5 degree threshold, says a landmark United Nations climate report. But he also warns that technologies like direct air capture will have a limited role to play. It can help eliminate some carbon dioxide emissions or perhaps industrial pollution that is very difficult to stop; the manufacture of cement, for example, also produces CO2. However, DAC is not a replacement for preventing greenhouse gas emissions in the first place. We will still need to switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources.
However, the fossil fuel industry is a major player in the field of carbon removal in the US Texas is home to another project that has been listed as the best in the world. first large-scale DAC plansand oil company Western is one of the developers. The Texas plant is supposed to eventually have the capacity to remove 1 million tons of CO2 from the atmosphere a year. It could be online as early as 2024. Like the Bison, it will start with a lower ability to capture CO2 and then ramp up from there.
A The big difference is that Occidental plans to pair the carbon removal project with its oil business in a bold attempt to somehow sell oil as a sustainable product. For years, oil companies have used captured carbon in a process called “enhanced oil recovery” — shooting CO2 into the ground to extract hard-to-reach reserves. Now Occidental is trying fire the oil produced in this process as more respectful of the environment”netzero oil.”
When it comes to using captured CO2 to produce more oil, “that’s something we as a company have no interest in aligning ourselves with. Our business is all about carbon removal,” says Corless, who was previously CEO of rival tech firm DAC Carbon Engineering partnering with Occidental on the Texas project.
Completion of Project Bison would ultimately be a major milestone for the carbon removal industry, and it has a chance to escape some of the ties to fossil fuels that its competitors have. Even if all goes well, Bison isn’t expected to reach full capacity until the end of the decade, when the US is supposed to cut its carbon dioxide emissions to half of peak levels based on commitments it made as Part of Paris climate change. agreement. That goal can only be achieved if direct air capture projects like Bison complement, rather than derail, a transition to cleaner energy sources.