This new B.C. facility wants to accelerate commercialization of CO2 capture and conversion tech

Naoko Ellis, senior research director of CMC Research Institutes’ Carbon Capture and Conversion Institute. Image: UBC

A partnership between academia, non-profit and industry will test new technologies designed to lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at a new Technology Commercialization and Innovation Centre (TCIC), set to open in B.C. in early 2017.

Using a collaborative model, the centre will serve as a test facility and bring together experts able to address the challenges of scaling up and commercializing promising new technologies. But it will not play favourites, says Naoko Ellis, senior research director of CMC Research Institutes’ Carbon Capture and Conversion Institute (CMC.CCCI).

“I can’t really say, ‘These are the best,’ or ‘These are going to solve our problems,’” says Ellis, who is also a professor of chemical and biological engineering at the University of British Columbia.

“We’re not married to any certain technologies for capturing or converting, which places us in a good position to look at it objectively and see how it might make sense in certain cases.”

CMC Research Institutes is a federally incorporated not-for-profit company dedicated to accelerating innovation to eliminate industrial GHG emissions.

CMC.CCCI is building the TCIC on Mitchell Island in Richmond, a Vancouver suburb, to screen and validate new carbon capture, conversion and other industrial processes associated with GHG mitigation. Partners are the University of British Columbia and BC Research, a subsidiary of NORAM Engineering and Constructors of Vancouver.

It will provide the infrastructure as well as the scientific and industrial expertise to demonstrate, operate, test, and analyze carbon capture and conversion technologies from bench scale to pilot plants. It will facilitate testing of a range of technologies, from membranes, sorbents and solvent CO2 capture systems to chemical, electrochemical and biological conversion systems.

With capacity of between one and three tonnes of CO2 per day coming from natural gas combustion, depending on the requirements of each technology, it should be able to accommodate several projects simultaneously, says Ellis. The institute is currently funding two projects.

One is the University of Calgary’s Calgary Framework 20 whose crystalline porous structures, known as metal organic frameworks, will trap and release CO2 in the presence of water vapour.

The other project is looking at separating CO2 from synthesis gas using hydrate technology. It’s being spearheaded by Peter Englezos, a professor at the University of British Columbia.

Ellis has been contacted by many technology developers who want to bring their ideas to the institute, where they can be scaled up and undergo any necessary tweaks to make them feasible.

But she won’t say which technology appears most promising. “It’s very hard to say, because in every different situation where CO2 can be found, it could lend itself to a different technology need. But I think the fact that there are a number of different technologies moving forward at various technology-readiness levels and being demonstrated is a great way to find out if it may make sense at a certain scale and in certain situations.

“For example, Carbon Engineering is having this pilot plant built in Squamish, B.C., and out of that we’ll learn valuable lessons in terms of techno-economics, scale and technical challenges that need to be overcome. I think having a variety of technologies coming forward is something that’s exciting.”

Started by David Keith, a former University of Calgary professor and climate science and geoengineering authority who now teaches at Harvard University, Carbon Engineering grew from academic work conducted on carbon management technologies by Keith’s research groups at the University of Calgary and Carnegie Mellon University. The company’s backers include Calgary billionaire oilman and Canadian Natural Resources chair Murray Edwards and billionaire Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

Carbon Engineering is developing technology for the industrial-scale capture of CO2 from ambient air and its conversion, with the addition of hydrogen from renewable sources, to ultra–low carbon fuels. Its technology strategy is to develop a low-risk, chemical-based CO2 air capture system that it can bring to market in the near-term with competitive economics.

Ellis says she definitely has a sense that there is increased awareness and interest in reducing carbon emissions from both the oil and gas industry and society in general. That may be due to the Alberta government announcing a coming carbon tax and results from the Paris Accord, which came out strongly against GHGs, she says.

She and her colleagues have been drumming up interest from municipal and provincial governments, hoping that growing interest will translate into increased funding for the institute.

Like this? Check out the latest issue of Oilweek