Carbon capture technology is the stuff of dreams. Many people don’t worry about climate change because they assume mankind will somehow find a magic bullet to make all that nasty carbon dioxide go away before life on earth is destroyed. And they may be right. A new British company called CarbonClean is licensing technology it says can capture the carbon dioxide found in flue gasses and turn it into soda ash, better known as baking powder. Soda ash has many commercial uses in glass manufacture, sweeteners, detergents and paper products.
The CarbonClean process is the result of research by two young Indian chemists at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur. When they failed to find backers for their idea in India, they decided to take advantage of program offered by the UK government, which offered grants and special entrepreneur status in England.
CarbonClean now has its headquarters in the Paddington district of London. CEO Aniruddha Sharma tells The Guardian, “So far the ideas for carbon capture have mostly looked at big projects, and the risk is so high they are very expensive to finance. We want to set up small-scale plants that de-risk the technology by making it a completely normal commercial option.” The system will capture about 60,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year says CarbonClean.
The first company to use the technology is Tuticorin Alkali Chemicals in southern India. It is using the process to capture the carbon dioxide from its coal fired boiler. The firm’s managing director, Ramachandran Gopalan, tells BBC Radio 4: “I am a businessman. I never thought about saving the planet. I needed a reliable stream of CO2, and this was the best way of getting it.” He says the plant now has virtually zero emissions to air or water.
CarbonClean says its process uses a new carbon stripping chemical discovered by the two researchers. Its process is just slightly more efficient than the current carbon capture process but it needs less energy, is less corrosive, and requires much smaller equipment. All of that means the cost to build the new system is much lower than for conventional carbon capture systems. The installation in Tuticorin is the first to operate profitably without subsidies.
The company says its technology is attracting interest from around the world. Until this point, carbon capture meant forcing the carbon into underground rocks. That process is expensive, inefficient, and derives no commercial benefit from selling the by-products of sequestration. CarbonClean believes carbon capture technology could neutralize 5 to 10% of the world’s emissions from coal. It’s not a cure for global warming but it could make a valuable contribution because industrial steam boilers are hard to run on renewable energy.