Don Langley, vice president and chief technology officer for Babcock and Wilcox, says the approach holds more promise for large-scale carbon capture than do some alternatives, such as carbon-dioxide-absorbing algae farms that require huge tracks of land. “We’re in serious discussions at the moment on how to move forward with a more formal relationship, which would potentially include licensing the technology and joint development,” Langley says, adding that the bioreactor must be scaled up substantially and operate more efficiently to be economical. “We’re kind of placing bets, if you will,” he says. “Obviously, we see some things in the CO2 Solution approach that I really wouldn’t want to disclose that make us pretty interested.”
Aluminum giant Alcoa tested CO2 Solution’s lab prototype in 2004 by attaching it to an air outlet from a smelter’s emissions-scrubbing system. Michel Lepage, Alcoa’s director of laboratories and environment, says the technology worked well. “The system removed 80 percent of the CO2, which is quite large,” says Lepage, emphasizing that it was a small-scale test. “But it told us it has a high potential.”
CO2 Solution also sees its technology serving some industrial niches. Last week the company was granted a European patent for the process of capturing carbon-dioxide emissions from cement factories and converting it into bicarbonate and eventually limestone–a key ingredient in manufacturing the cement itself. The company already holds a U.S. patent on the process. The bicarbonate is also useful for producing carbonate compounds for neutralizing industrial waste and some effluents.For its part, Babcock and Wilcox is strictly interested in the carbon-dioxide removal, compression, and geologic sequestration; any end-stream products that may result would simply be a bonus. “Quite frankly, it just boils down to what’s the dollars-per-avoided-ton cost of CO2,” says Langley. “That’s our focal point.”
Langley emphasizes that CO2 Solution’s technology is still very much at an embryonic stage of development and that there are major economic and technical hurdles to overcome. “There’s not any technology today that’s really down to where we need to be,” he says.
The company’s techniques for reproducing the enzyme have already led to a significant drop in enzyme production costs. Perhaps the biggest challenge will be to produce enough of the enzymes to process the enormous quantity of carbon dioxide that would be emitted from a coal- or gas-fired power plant. CO2 Solution is determined to do it, particularly given the heightened profile of climate change and the likelihood that carbon regulation is around the corner.