In our recent profile of ways to turn all of the world's billions of tons of excess CO2 into useful products, we mentioned a little company called Carbon Sciences. The company is as small as they come...one employee. And yet they have a demonstrated (though not patented) technology that allows them to turn CO2 into useful (and in some cases) very valuable commercial products.
We tracked down Carbon Science's sole employee, their CEO, Derek McLeish, to talk about their technology, and the effects he hopes it will have.
EcoGeek: So you want to turn CO2 into calcium carbonate. That's basically limestone...chalk...right?
Derek McLeish: If you look at the calcium carbonate market, it's moved into 64 different kinds of calclum carbonate. It's in toothpaste, yogurt, milk filler, PVC, paper, etc. All of these applications require different grades, and they can cost anywhere from $5 a ton to $1000 per ton.
We'll never have too much calcium carbonate. 60% of calcium carbonate is currently used in the paper industry as a filler and brightener. Nowadays they're actually co-locating calcium carbonate plants along side paper plants.
EcoGeek: But we are talking about a LOT of calcium carbonate here. Right?
The leaders in this are are the guys in Helskinki. They've calculated that if you took all of Finland's CO2 output and turned it into calcium carbonate, you'd have four soccer fields 8m deep per year. Right now if you do the numbers on calclium carbonate it's probably a 20 billion business. Two freighters of gypsum a week feed one wallboard factory in California.
Worse, right now, that CaCO3 either mined or even worse. There's huge amounts of energy used to mine and process calcium carbonate right now.
EcoGeek: To Create CaCO3 from CO2, you need a lot of calcium. Where do you think all of that rock is going to come from?
There are lots of areas where this could be an efficient process. And there are some where it wouldn't be. Imagine co-locating a power plant at a slurry pile from a metal mine. The rock is there, in many cases actually needing to be hauled away. Our process can use that waste material, as well as CO2, to create something useful.
EcoGeek: Obviously there is no incentive for CO2 producers to look into this technology right now. What does the carbon sequestration industry need to get on its feet?
Thank god that the Supreme Court made the ruling that CO2 is a pollution. Now the EPA has to monitor it. Also, the California Air Resource Board is charging emitters four cents a ton for carbon emissions. Soon, there's either going to be cap and trade or tax or something. The beauty of our system is that we can be on both sides. We can create a useful material and get paid to sequester the CO2.
EcoGeek: There are a lot of other proposed ways to get rid of CO2, though none of them are very well proven. What do you see as other viable and not-so-viable solutions?
Geosequestration seems like an infinite ticking time bomb to me. The mines and oil wells where they want to bury the CO2 have a wonderful way of having lots of holes. If there's a big burp in downtown LA and it kills a bunch of people, it's not going to seem like such a good idea.
I think that algae is definitely a great slice of this pie as well. But just like our technology, there are places where it makes a lot of sense and places where it doesn't.
Skyonic [who convert CO2 into baking soda] are fellow travelers but have big problems with the cost factors. But anybody who helps legitimize transforming instead of just burying it is great.
EcoGeek: So you have your mobile demonstration unit turning CO2 into sticks of chalk. What's the next step for Carbon Sciences, and how far off do you think you are from commercial implementation?
Our next step is to get to our pilot plant online, which will prove all of our basic engineering and patent ideas and move us forward. Our position is that we're going to go for small scale with lots of different deployments.
Within 2 years we'll have good numbers out of the pilot plant process. 3.5 years to have the pilot plant up and running.
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