Surprising Carbon Capture Innovations

Small-scale options for slowing climate change

When it comes to climate change, carbon capture is not a substitute for reducing emissions. But given the choice between products that add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and those that remove it, which would you choose?

Carbon capture technologies take many forms and sizes, some of them available to consumers as lifestyle or product choices. Read on to learn about some innovative and surprising options.

Turn CO2 into vodka—and hand sanitizer

Air Company is a New York-based startup generating vodka from just three ingredients: Air, water, and sunlight. Using solar energy, Air Company causes a chemical reaction that pulls carbon dioxide out of the air and turns it into alcohol. The production process is carbon negative, removing 1.5 kg of carbon dioxide from the air for every kg of alcohol produced. The product is not yet widely available, however. Air Company took a break from vodka during the COVID-19 pandemic to produce hand sanitizer donations instead.

Use CO2 to carbonate beer

The Texas-based company Earthly Labs offers craft breweries a “plug-and-play” carbon capture technology called CiCi. The CiCi unit, which is about the size of a refrigerator, retains waste gas from brewing vats and recycles it to carbonate the beer. CiCi first cleans the captured gas, removing any acids or volatile organic compounds (VOCs). This process allows the typical craft brewery to capture about 100,000 pounds of CO2 per year, which is the carbon-capture equivalent of planting 1,500 trees.  

Turn CO2 into baking soda

CarbonFree has been operating a project called SkyMine in San Antonio, Texas, since 2015. The plant captures about 50,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year from cement flues—a leading source of greenhouse emissions. SkyMine turns the carbon dioxide into carbon-negative baking soda. CarbonFree’s mission is to capture 10 percent of the world’s atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Turn CO2 into fish food

A U.K. company called Deep Branch uses captured carbon dioxide in a fermentation process to produce a single-cell protein. The protein is suitable to feed farmed fish. Since the protein can be made anywhere with local materials, soy and fish meal need not be shipped across the ocean to Europe. So the benefit is not just direct CO2 capture; eliminating transportation also reduces the protein pellets’ carbon footprint.

Turn CO2 into supplements for plastic and concrete

Carbon Upcycling Technologies, a Canadian startup, turns carbon dioxide into tiny nanoparticles to incorporate into plastics or concrete. The company captures carbon dioxide from fly ash (a fossil fuel waste product). Transforming carbon dioxide into nanoparticles keeps emissions out of the atmosphere and reduces the amount of greenhouse gas-intensive plastic and concrete needed.

Turn CO2 into bioplastics

Newlight Technologies, a California-based startup, captures methane from farms and carbon dioxides from power plant chimneys. Then Newlight uses microbes to remove carbon from the gases. The carbon is combined with hydrogen and oxygen to create bioplastic pellets. This bioplastic, which occurs in nature, is biodegradable. IKEA is using Newlight’s bioplastic pellets to make molded plastic furniture. IKEA’s goal is to use 100 percent recyclable or recycled materials in all its plastic products.

Turn CO2 into a mineral

Until recently, the approach to industrial carbon dioxide capture has been to pump it into underground pockets. However, that approach has a significant drawback: The gas can escape if the earth shifts or if the pockets are leaky. Now there’s a more stable solution from a research collaborative called CarbFix. When carbon dioxide is injected into underground basalt rock formations, 95 percent of the gas turns into a mineral within two years. Unlike the consumer options above, this solution could work on a large scale.

Disclaimer

Company names are used in this list for transparency and informational purposes. However, this does not constitute an endorsement of these companies or their products.

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