​New Vancouver tech commercialization centre opened to Carbon XPRIZE teams

Drawing of a portion of the new Technology Commercialization and Innovation Centre being constructed on Mitchell Island. Image: CCCI

A new technology commercialization centre in metropolitan Vancouver has opened its doors to international innovators competing in a US$20-million global competition to convert carbon dioxide emissions into valuable products.

The Carbon Capture and Conversion Institute’s (CCCI) new centre, located in Richmond in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, is offering its facilities and network of experts to 27 semi-finalist teams competing in the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE.

The worldwide contest is to encourage breakthrough technologies that convert the most carbon dioxide from industrial emissions into products with the highest net value – thereby keeping the greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere.

CCCI is an institute of CMC Research Institutes (CMC), a federally incorporated not-for-profit company dedicated to accelerating innovation to eliminate industrial greenhouse gas emissions.

Under a partnership agreement between CMC, XPRIZE and competition sponsors NRG and Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, all 27 teams from six different countries, including Canada, have the option of utilizing CCCI’s new centre during the solutions development phase. Advancing carbon capture and conversion technologies from the laboratory bench to pilot plant scale is a requirement for teams to advance to the competition finals.

Scheduled to open in February, CCCI’s custom-built Technology, Commercialization and Innovation Centre is operated by a multidisciplinary team of professionals, including scientists and engineers, and is focused on scale-up and commercialization.

“We’re very excited about this partnership, especially the opportunity we have to help and support the semi-finalists in developing and testing their technology,” says Goran Vlajnic, CCCI’s executive director.

“I’m happy that NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE and recognizes the specific value and expertise that CMC and the CCCI, together with their national and international networks of researchers and engineers, can bring to the table to help these semi-finalists.”

The partnership will contribute to the thriving clean tech sector in B.C.’s Lower Mainland and will strengthen Canada’s position as a global leader in the development of low-carbon technologies, Vlajnic adds.

“It’s absolutely a match made in heaven...this is what we do and it’s a perfect fit,” says Richard Adamson, then-president of CMC Research Institutes in Calgary.

“The point of CCCI is to move technologies off the lab bench and get them up to scale where industry can make decisions about investment or moving forward into full-scale demonstration projects.”

CCCI and the Technology and Commercialization Centre’s set of skills and capabilities will help enable a fair assessment of the competitors, especially with so many novel technologies at a fairly early stage.

In a letter of support for the institute, Paul Bunje, XPRIZE’s principal and senior scientist for the Energy & Environment group, said CCCI’s new centre in Richmond offers “exactly the type of implementation and scaling expertise that is needed by many of the semi-finalist Carbon XPRIZE competitors. XPRIZE is excited to partner with CMC Research Institutes/CCCI in supporting competitors in development and demonstration of the strongest embodiment of their initial concepts.”

B.C.’s sole competitor checking out the new facility

One Vancouver-based business that’s considering utilizing the new centre is Terra CO2 Technologies Ltd., British Columbia’s sole competitor in the global competition.

Dylan Jones, Terra’s CEO, says his company is “ecstatic” at being a Round 2 semi-finalist.

“As British Columbia’s only entrant into the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE, we are proud to be one of the few companies locally working to solve two of the most important environmental issues facing Western Canada and the world” – industrial carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming and climate change, and pollution from mining operations.

Terra’s technology converts carbon dioxide (CO2) into a stable solid form, while also treating sulphuric acid rock drainage, a waste produced by mining operations. Terra’s patented chemical process is designed to capture CO2 from an industrial gas stream, such as a mine’s onsite power plant, into solution, and then combine it with the metal component (iron sulphides) of acid rock drainage. The CO2 supplies the carbon atoms required to convert iron sulphides into stable iron carbonates called “siderite” – permanently removing both the CO2 emissions and the mining waste from the environment.

Current conventional treatment for acid rock drainage releases large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, Jones notes. “Using Terra’s technology prevents this emission and additionally converts the major non-metal pollutant in acid rock drainage into a saleable product (sulphuric acid).” The siderite is a chemically inert, non-toxic solid that can be safely put back into the mining excavation or spread over the mine site.

Terra has attracted innovation grants from the National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Program, MITACS, and the Tech Co-op Grant Program. The company’s primary market focus is the mining industry, which has problems with acid drainage runoff at many sites around the world. However, a secondary market is any operation that has sulphide salts and is close to a CO2 flue gas stream source, such as cement and fertilizer manufacturing sites. Terra plans to commercialize its technology by 2020.

Jones says Terra has achieved proof-of-concept of its carbon capture and conversion technology at the bench-top scale. But to make the finals of the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE, the company now has to advance its technology to pilot plant scale.

Terra is planning a pilot plant capable of processing 200 kilograms of CO2 per day, and sequester about 60 kg daily of that volume in order to meet the requirements of the final round of the competition.

Terra is in discussions with the Carbon Capture and Conversion Institute and its partner BC Research, and has met with Naoko Ellis, senior research director at the CCCI and a professor of chemical and biological engineering at the University of British Columbia, who has expertise in carbon capture. “We would definitely consider using the CCCI facility...we are very interested in working with them,” Jones says.

New centre offers semi-finalists several advantages

Vlajnic says the Carbon Capture and Conversion Institute’s Technology, Commercialization and Innovation Centre, built with CCCI’s partner BC Research, offers several advantages to help semi-finalists accelerate the design, engineering and scale-up of their technologies.

The centre is designed to facilitate the development and testing of various carbon capture and conversion technologies, from the scale of tens of kilograms CO2 per day up to one to two tonnes CO2 per day. Technologies are scaled up from concept to pilot or demonstration scale by BC Research-CCCI’s experienced team of scientists, engineers and designers.

“This is what we believe sets us apart from other similar organizations,” says Vlajnic, who sees the institute as a “one-stop shop” for the competing teams. “Together with our partners, we can provide not only extensive knowledge and expertise in process and equipment design and engineering, but also in scale-up and fabrication. Through CCCI’s extensive network, we can also help some of the semi-finalists develop or further refine their business models.”

The centre will provide an actual flue gas stream from a natural gas-fired boiler as well as a simulated flue gas stream that can be mixed to simulate different industrial processes, including flue gas from a power plant burning coal.

This is crucial to NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE competitors, because they have to ultimately test their carbon capture and conversion technologies at either a natural gas-fuelled power plant or a coal-fired power plant.

“We can simulate all those kinds of flue gas conditions, so that you can really take a process and push it to its breaking point and understand what the failure mechanisms and modes are and how to make it as robust as possible at a scale where, if it fails, the cost isn’t huge,” Adamson says.

The centre’s 40,000 square feet of technology innovation space includes 28,000 square feet devoted to pilot plant development, along with 9,000 square feet of office space. There is also 2,500 square feet of wet chemistry laboratory space, an analytical room, chemical and gas cylinder storage, a machine shop and a tool room.

The facility provides 720-kilowatt electrical service, 66 gallons-per-minute water supply and five megawatts of natural gas supply to the pilot plant areas, which include an indoor area with 30-foot-high ceilings and an outdoor raised and fenced area.

Current carbon dioxide capture technologies, which use amine or solvent-based systems, as well as novel capture technologies based on solid sorbents or membrane-type processes, will be accommodated at the facility. On the conversion side, the centre will be able to handle a number of different processes, including chemical, electrochemical and thermal.

Adamson notes that many of the semi-finalists aren’t experienced in designing or scaling up continuous industrial processes.

“It’s important to understand that these technologies are not just being tested, they’re being developed,” he says. “There’s a lot of learning that needs to go on, to understand how to design and build a tonnes-per-day plant.”

In addition to the new facility in Richmond, Vlajnic says that CCCI offers semi-finalist teams “the ability to really answer their fundamental questions about their technology by the best researchers or subject matter experts from the University of British Columbia, which is also our partner.”

Two US$7.5-million grand prizes to be awarded

Launched in 2015, the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE is sponsored by NRG, a U.S.-based power company, and COSIA . The 4 ½-year competition is structured as a two-track prize, with finalists ultimately testing their new technologies at either an operating natural gas-fired power plant in Alberta or an operating coal power plant in Wyoming.

A total of US$20 million will be awarded: $2.5 million shared equally among up to five finalists in each track, and a $7.5-million grand prize to each winner in each track. The two winning teams will convert the most CO2 into products with the highest net value, and meeting strict environmental requirements for CO2 emissions, water, and land use.

Nine of the semi-finalist teams are from Canada, while the others come from China, India, Switzerland, Scotland and the United States. The teams include innovative carbon capture technology companies, top-tier academic institutions, non-profits and new startups. They propose converting CO2 into products as varied as enhanced concrete, biofuels, toothpaste, nanotubes, fish food and fertilizer.

“CCCI, NRG, COSIA and XPRIZE are tackling one of the most critical challenges of our time – that of moving our planet to a low-carbon future,” Adamson says. “The technologies being developed will play a role in making that future a reality.”