• Gennette Cordova

Carbon capture key to net zero aviation emissions, says Carbon Engineering CEO



With the aviation industry becoming increasingly conscious of the global challenge of climate change, carbon capture technology company Carbon Engineering believes it has the solution to mitigating the impact of air travel emissions: removing CO2 already in the air.


The Canadian startup partnered with Occidental Petroleum to expand its direct air capture technology, which has been in use at Carbon Engineering’s British Columbia plant since 2015, by building a new plant in Texas’ Permian Basin. The plant has an expected in-service date of 2023 and will remove as much as 1 million tonnes of CO2 per year from the atmosphere. The recovered CO2 that the company doesn’t bury — a carbon-negative action — will be used as  feedstock to make synthetic fuels that can substitute for jet fuel.


Their operation has turned the heads of big-name backers like Bill Gates and Chevron, attracting more than $100 million in backing. In an interview with Jet Fuel Innovation News, Carbon Engineering CEO Steve Oldham explained that the company’s path to achieving net zero emissions differs from the more popular decarbonization plans and has attracted a corresponding high level of interest from investors.


Oldham encourages those looking to mitigate carbon emissions to consider how challenging it would be to individually control emissions from the literally billions of separate emitters — cars, trucks, ships, planes. But aviation, like most transport, is integral to the world's economy and our general way of life.


“So, maybe a solution isn’t decarbonization,” said Oldham. “For every molecule of carbon we put up, our technology enables you to pull an equivalent amount from the atmosphere, from anywhere at any time. That is very attractive.“


The aviation industry, which is responsible for over 2% of global carbon emissions, has adopted a set of ambitious targets to mitigate its CO2 emissions. Overall, the industry aims to reduce net aviation CO2 emissions by 50% by 2050, relative to 2005 levels, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Increased fuel efficiency is a starting point, but the darling of sustainability in aviation is biofuels.


Current biofuel technology is challenged by inherent limitations in feedstock, Oldham said. Regardless of the source – whether from corn, cooking oil, palm oil or other technologies in development – feedstock supply is insufficient to meet the industry’s demands for jet fuel.


“I don't want to be perceived as negative of biofuels,” he emphasized. “I'm not, and we need every single technology that we can use.”


Critics of carbon capture say that the technology may be overhyped and too costly. That latter has been quieted, though, since the cost estimates for Carbon Engineering’s carbon capture process has dropped dramatically from around $600 per tonne in 2011 to under $100.



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