Carbon conversion and carbon utilization technologies have the potential to play a significant role in global efforts to address climate change. These emerging technologies effectively move CO2 from a waste product to a commodity that can be sold.

Through the Grand Challenge: Innovative Carbon Uses, Alberta reached out to the world to support the development of technologies that convert CO2 into value-added products and chemicals.

ERA received 344 submissions from 37 countries in the first round of the competition, and we made commitments of $500,000 in seed funding to 24 projects to prove their technology.

We launched the second round of the $35 million competition in 2015 and received 59 new submissions to join the successful round one projects. This second round sets the bar even higher. Winning projects will demonstrate a clear path to reducing GHG emissions by one megatonne annually while presenting a realistic plan for deployment. Up to five successful projects will receive $3 million in funding to help advance their technologies in Alberta.

The final round ends in 2019, with one of the round two winners selected to receive an additional $10 million to help commercialize their technology in Alberta.

Many of the funded projects from the first round are turning CO2 into useful products and producing results.

Creating Green Methanol

The methanol reactor at Edmonton-based Quantiam Technologies is an important part of their work to produce methanol from captured CO<sub><figcaption id=2 emissions and hydrogen.” class=”size-full wp-image-1561″ /> The methanol reactor at Edmonton-based Quantiam Technologies is an important part of their work to produce methanol from captured CO2 emissions and hydrogen.

Quantiam Technologies, based in Edmonton, develops and manufactures transition metal-based coatings for process catalysis applications in extreme environments or selected industrial wear, and in corrosion resistance applications.

Their Methanol+ technology produces methanol from captured CO2 emissions and hydrogen. Methanol has many practical applications, such as being used as a feedstock for olefin production and as a fuel additive, and it can be very effective in reducing the environmental footprint left by gasoline.

“We had excellent prototype results which, in addition to meeting our own goals with ERA, green-lighted continued research and the scale-up of our activities on this project,” says Peter Unwin, Research Scientist with Quantiam.

This technology provides a low-cost and scalable solution to GHG mitigation while producing a high-value product for the petrochemical sector. It has the potential to generate revenue, meet global demand, and create jobs in Alberta to produce and transport methanol.

Applying Graphene for Stronger Substances

Calgary-based Carbon Upcycling converts CO<sub><figcaption id=2 into graphene by processing CO2 with graphite in a mill reactor. Graphene is just one atom thick but 200 times strong then steel.” class=”size-full wp-image-1562″ /> Calgary-based Carbon Upcycling converts CO2 into graphene by processing CO2 with graphite in a mill reactor. Graphene is just one atom thick but 200 times strong then steel.

Graphene is heralded as a miracle material: just one atom thick, it is stronger than steel and a better conductor of electricity than copper.

Carbon Upcycling Technologies from Calgary has been working on carbon conversion since 2013. Founder Apoorv Sinha strongly believes that carbon can be a valuable resource—not just a waste product.

Their technology converts CO2 into graphene by processing the CO2 with graphite in a mill reactor. The resulting reaction produces carboxylated layers of graphene. The product has the potential for multiple applications, including strengthening cement- or polymer-based products like plastic bottles and yoga mats.

“We were encouraged by the fact that we didn’t have to break down the CO2 molecule because this saves a lot of energy,” says Sinha. “It’s much better if you can find a way of absorbing or capturing it in a solid product.”

Carbon Upcycling Technologies is reaching out to cement mixers and polymer companies to position the product as a cheaper, stronger and more efficient filler. If we can use waste CO2 and incorporate it into common goods like cement, plastic bottles and yoga mats, we will reduce the environmental footprint required to produce everyday materials around the world.

Creating Valuable Chemicals from Sour Gas

A pilot crew member from New Sky energy takes measurements from a work site.
A pilot crew member from New Sky energy takes measurements from a work site.

Dr. Deane Little, CEO of New Sky Energy, says his idea for the company was a eureka moment. Based out of Boulder, Colorado, the clean chemistry company focuses on resource recovery and waste treatment. Their CarbonCycle process uses a non-toxic, water-soluble base to capture CO2 and H2S contaminants from sour gas and convert them into soda ash, bicarbonate and sulphur. The contaminants are then put to use as carbonates, which are used to fabricate glass, paper and other everyday products.

This technology could be massively beneficial for Alberta’s economy and environment. New Sky plans to expand into Alberta with a pilot operation in a sour gas field—a move that will create jobs across the province. They estimate the initiative could reduce CO2 emissions in Alberta by an estimated 6 megatonnes annually.

“We’re very interested in expanding to Canada because we think it’s an excellent market in terms of available resources like sour natural gas or sodium sulphate,” says Dr. Little. “The ERA in Alberta and Alberta’s carbon tax are very important for promoting the growth of clean technologies. Without that support, it’s difficult for small companies to gain traction in the marketplace.”

Moving Forward with the Challenge

Although the nature of the Grand Challenge is competitive, the focus is collective: finding carbon conversion technologies that benefit everyone. We expect that the Challenge will result in several successful projects in Alberta, creating jobs and economic benefits here at home while also helping to accelerate the development of these important technologies globally. Alberta’s Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) is also advancing carbon conversion technologies through the complementary NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE.