While Squamish is well-known as a prime destination for outdoor recreation and adventure, it is also emerging as a coveted location for technology and innovation.
For the past year, Carbon Engineering, a company formerly based in Calgary, has been running a pilot plant in the area that is a ground-breaking huge step toward fighting climate change.
“Our mission is to develop and commercialize technology that removes CO2from the air and converts it into fuel,” said Geoffrey Holmes, the company’s director of business development.
Although it may sound futuristic, it’s actually simple technology, used for years in things like submarines to remove CO2from the limited air supply so occupants don’t suffocate. And Squamish’s prototype plant has the backing of some pretty big investors, including Bill Gates, co-creator of Microsoft, and Murray Edwards, part-owner of the Calgary Flames and founder of Canadian Natural Resources.
“This is still a pilot plant,” said Holmes. “Right now, it is about data and learning.”
Choosing Squamish as a location for the project was a happy “coincidence,” according to Holmes.
“It wasn’t really a strategic move,” he said. “There was a good site available for what we needed, and there seemed to be a lot of good will toward what we wanted to do.”
So, the company planned to set up shop in Squamish, but only for a little while.
“Originally, we saw Squamish as a temporary site,” he said. “But, the support of the community and Squamish council convinced us that this was where we wanted to stay. So, we moved our Calgary staff here. We’ve come to really appreciate the area and all the goodwill.”
The facility now moves huge amounts of air through equipment where CO2is captured in a liquid solution. It is then turned into a solid, which can then be heated to release pure carbon. It’s so innovative because this is the first time a company has been able to show this CO2-capturing technology working with a potential to be scaled up to something large enough to actually make a dent in climate change and global warming.
“We are running all the equipment needed to capture CO2at a large scale,” said Holmes. “Now, we are working on the right business model.”
Carbon Engineering is also moving into the next phase of the prototype plant, building a system to turn the captured carbon into fuel by adding hydrogen. It’s a process involving the manipulation of carbon and hydrogen molecules to create fuel.
“We are now bringing in the equipment and designing the additional plant that will take the CO2we are capturing and create fuel,” he said. “We hope to be creating a barrel a day in one year. First, it was about showing that the technology worked. Now, it is less about showing that the technology will work, but seeing how well it will work.”
Once the process has been optimized, Holmes said the company would then look at establishing its first commercial plant.