Sunday 18 August 2019

Irish pair back carbon-capture pioneer's plan


Blue sky thinking: Prof Klaus Lackner, director of Arizona State University’s Centre for Negative Carbon Emissions. Photo: Arizona State University
Blue sky thinking: Prof Klaus Lackner, director of Arizona State University’s Centre for Negative Carbon Emissions. Photo: Arizona State University

John Reynolds

Two Irish businessmen have joined up with a carbon capture pioneer to develop breakthrough CO2 emission- sucking technology.

Three former BP divisional chiefs are backing the pair, one of whom is oil and natural resources businessman John McKeon. They are working with carbon-capture pioneer Professor Klaus Lackner to develop vast fields of carbon capture columns around the world in a bid to help reverse carbon dioxide emissions.

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Silicon Kingdom Holdings (SKH) CEO and former Xerox corporate venture lab entrepreneur Pól Ó Móráin said they will establish a core team of finance, engineering and research staff in Dublin to work on their plan, in conjunction with partner Arizona State University (ASU), where Prof Lackner is based, and has developed the columns.

"Ireland should be a centre of excellence for negative carbon emissions technology, with a similar research function to that in ASU," Mr McKeon, SKH's chairman added.

The firm is talking to engineering firms here about building giant fields of their columns around the world. Industrial users of high grade CO2 are keenly interest in the proven technology's potential. They currently pay up to $200 per tonne to use the gas. A large food company might use 30,000 tonnes a day.

Airline and oil firms in the US are understood to be interested in the columns as a way to cut their carbon emissions.

Large businesses, family offices, private-equity firms and a number of high-net-worth investors are interested in backing the technology that uses a method known as direct air capture. Silicon Kingdom claims that it is thousands of times more effective than trees at absorbing CO2.

Mr Ó Móráin said a pilot deployment of 1,200 of the columns, probably in the US, would suck 100 tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere a day, at an initial cost of about $100 a tonne - less than rivals.

Full-scale projects would consist of 120,000 columns, covering about a square mile, absorbing 3.6 million tonnes of carbon a year - the same as 800,000 cars emit. Global CO2 emissions are about 37bn tonnes a year, so 1,000 full-scale plants could cancel out one tenth of global emissions.

Prof Lackner said investment in the technology "means placing a trillion dollar bet that the regulatory cost of CO2 emissions will rise".

As pressure is ramped up on governments and businesses to take more rapid action, there is growing interest in the technology.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and oil and natural resources giants Chevron and BHP have backed Canadian firm Carbon Engineering, which plans to make synthetic fuels using direct air capture.

Many climate campaigners argue that the immense task of planting 1.2 trillion trees around the world could reduce atmospheric CO2 by over 90 billion tonnes a year, but not until they are 20 or 30 years old.

Irish Independent

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