Carbon Capture For Buildings Made Easy By CarbonQuest

Carbon Capture For Buildings Made Easy By CarbonQuest - Carbon Herald
Source: CarbonQuest

In this episode of the Carbonsations podcast, we interviewed Anna Pavlova, Senior Vice President at CarbonQuest, a company specializing in carbon capture solutions for buildings. 

Anna explains CarbonQuest’s unique approach to carbon capture, focusing on medium-sized emitters and utilizing toxin-free solid sorbents. The company’s technology has been proven in projects across Manhattan, demonstrating its effectiveness in tight spaces and its modular design. 

Anna also touches on the potential expansion into residential buildings, the scalability of CarbonQuest’s solutions, and the future of carbon capture technology, including partnerships and projects in the pipeline for 2024. 

The conversation highlights the importance of innovative decarbonization strategies in combating climate change.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

The Carbonsations podcast is hosted by Violet George.

Violet George: What CarbonQuest does is rather unique, and at least to my knowledge, there aren’t a lot of companies out there offering decarbonization solutions specifically for buildings. So can you please give us a little more details about what your business model is and how your technology works? 

Anna Pavlova: Yes, we are pretty unique in the carbon capture space. We are the one distributed carbon capture company, meaning that we’re really focused on medium sized emitters and perhaps emitters that one may not naturally think of when one thinks of carbon capture. 

A lot of times people assume carbon capture is only for oil and gas companies or maybe a steel company. But there are many, many, many other emitters, about 2.6 gigatons, at least, of emissions in the US that come from other types of emitters that may not have other solutions. And so that’s a very wide space, of course. 

Our proof of concept to show that we could commercialize has been in six big, tall buildings in Manhattan. And the idea there was that we can show that our technology works. We use toxin free solid sorbents to attract CO2 molecules. So we needed to show that that makes sense. And then we also wanted to show that we can fit into tight physical spaces. And where else better to practice that than Manhattan? And that our systems are modular and could be configured in different ways. 

Relevant: CarbonQuest And Daroga Introduce Innovative Low-Carbon Fuel Cell Technology

And so we’ve really proved that out, and now we’re focusing on what’s next, both in bigger buildings, but also in campus settings. So schools, universities, hospitals that are larger settings with more complex heating systems in those buildings and facilities. And then also we have some other new things outside of the classical city building space. 

Violet George: And does CarbonQuest deal with residential buildings at all? Or is that something in the works, perhaps? 

Anna Pavlova: I think that if you’re thinking of a traditional residential home, it makes sense for that home to electrify. I think that’s where electrification is easiest, especially in new-construction homes, but also retrofitting houses, for example, with electrical heat pumps, makes sense. 

Where it becomes difficult is more complex systems. So in Manhattan, we have residential buildings, but they have commercial boilers that are in very, very big buildings, and so they really are just like a commercial building. It’s less important whether someone lives there or somebody works there. 

But the idea is that the bigger the building is, and especially if it’s a group of buildings like a campus, and there’s some resilience requirements, for example, really cannot lose power in a hospital, then you really want to keep that resilience. Then electrification becomes very difficult. And usually it’s not just boilers, it’s combined heating power, reciprocal engines, fuel cells. 

And so those things need to be addressed and decarbonized, but very difficult to do with electrification. So we’re focused primarily on that space and maybe stepping into utility infrastructure and manufacturing. 

Violet George: Where else is CarbonQuest or CarbonQuest’s technology available outside of New York? 

Anna Pavlova: So we’re a bi-coastal company, actually, and our headquarters are in two places: New York, and in Spokane, Washington. And there we are also focused on slightly different types of projects, a lot of utility infrastructure. But generally, we are now starting to expand across the US and a little bit in Canada, looking for projects where we can help decarbonize right away with our system. 

Right now, our focus is primarily in facilities, buildings where they have combined heat and power or fuel cells, or where additional power like data centers may be needed. And they want to put in one of those systems. And then we come in as a bolt on feature. So it’s fuel cell plus carbon capture, or combined leading power plus carbon capture. 

Sustainable CO2: Utilizing captured emissions

Violet George: Excellent. Now that we’ve got kind of the capture side covered, I also really wanted to get into the utilization side of things, because capturing CO2 is one thing, and it’s a great thing, but there inevitably comes the question of what to do with it. And I know that CarbonQuest has a very intriguing solution for that as well, called Sustainable CO2. Could you please tell us more about that? 

Anna Pavlova: Yes. So sustainable CO2 is an absolutely integral part of our carbon management offering. So we don’t just offer carbon capture, we really offer the whole carbon management solution, and sustainable CO2 is a recycled, traceable product. You know exactly where it was, how it was delivered and where it was delivered. And there are a number of things that we can do with it. 

And I think most people don’t realize that when you’re supplying CO2, even for things like a greenhouse or beverage products, it’s a commingled product. It’s a combination of virgin CO2, some recycled CO2 with no traceability, that is delivered over thousands of thousands of miles, unless you are next to an ethanol plant in the midwest or in Texas. And so that is a problem for scope 3 emissions for the buyers. So at the very least, we can deliver a local, trackable, guaranteed recycled product, hence Sustainable CO2. 

Relevant: ‘CarbonQuest Is On A Mission To Decarbonize Buildings’ – COO Brian Asparro

But we can go further with it than that. CO2 is now being used as a petroleum displacement product. We have plastic everywhere, unfortunately, in our lives. And getting rid of the plastic component is very difficult. But now there are technologies that allow you to blend with hydrogen, blend with other things, and you can make petroleum-free plastic, or kind of a plastic substitute product. You can also make sustainable jet fuel by using CO2. And so, at least there, we’re also delivering that petroleum displacement. 

And in some cases, that is not always true, depending on geography, but you can permanently store CO2. You can permanently store it in concrete, which is what we’re doing currently in New York. Or you can put it underground where it turns into rock as well. So there are a number of options, and we match the client’s needs, the geography, the market, to help them do that whole carbon management. 

Decarbonizing data centers

Violet George: Thank you. Another thing I really wanted to touch on is carbon capture for data centers. As we know, data centers consume a lot of electricity, and their energy consumption is only going to increase in the years to come. So I was wondering, how do you believe their operations can become more sustainable and whether CarbonQuest’s solution is compatible with the way data centers are powered? 

Anna Pavlova: I’ve been really interested in the data center question for a while, and, in my previous experiences, I worked quite a bit on data centers. And at the time, you built a data center, you put some chillers in because you really need cooling for the data center, not heating, and that was that. But that industry, as you said, is really changing. And I think there are three things that are converging. 

One is they need resilient power, just like a hospital. Otherwise, all of a sudden, our devices get interrupted. So they need constant resilient power, which means oftentimes they want it on site, then they just simply need more power. That is the big conundrum for that industry. As digitalization grows, as AI grows, they need exponentially more power than data centers needed 15 years ago. 

So where do you get that power? Can the utility provide that or not? The third thing is the power needs to be green. There’s a lot of pressure on that sector to really use green power. But that’s a very hard three-product challenge to solve. And so there’s a lot of innovation in the space on how to deliver resilient on-site power that is also green. 

Relevant: CarbonQuest Launches Carbon Capture For Buildings In New York City

And for data centers, what’s really important is the capacity factor of that power, meaning what percentage of time is the power system on? And that’s why they need as close to 100% capacity banter as possible. But that means on-site renewables may not be the easiest option. And they also buy green power and power purchase agreements. But you don’t want to just keep doing that. You really want to do something on-site as well. 

So what do you do? I don’t think there is a silver bullet or that our solution solves all the problems, not in the least. But I do think that data centers that may want to purchase a fuel cell system or a CHP system, those have very high capacity factors, 95% enough, and then they bolt on the carbon capture, just like at a building, any other building. It’s also a building, really. 

And you put in this carbon capture plus fuel cell or carbon capture plus chp, then you get that costly supply of power. We did not interrupt that in any way. And it is decarbonized because we will capture virtually all of the emissions from the data center. So we do think we can play very well in that space as these demands grow bigger and really change, I would say, dramatically from how things were ten years ago. 

The main challenges of building decarbonization

Violet George: Brilliant. Now, with that in mind, I kind of also wanted to take a step back and look at the bigger picture as far as building decarbonization goes. Specifically, what would you describe are the main challenges of this sector? And on a brighter note, how do you see the space developing in the years leading up to 2030 and then 2050, since those are the most important marks right now? 

Anna Pavlova: I am hoping that it’s not too late. I think this is where all of us in this space are always worried how fast we can go. And the biggest challenge to me is that when it has really become apparent to governments and policymakers that this climate crisis is an emergency, there was a bit of a rush into the idea that everything can be electrified. And partially maybe that came from the previous effort around energy efficiency and energy management. 

So, what I’ve seen happen is that electrifying everything right now is proving to be a lot more difficult than doing energy conservation everywhere right now. And again, as I said in new homes, it makes perfect sense to electrify existing homes. I think annexed, smaller buildings are next. But if bigger buildings, headquarters, campus settings, utility infrastructure, if those things were easy to electrify, then cities like New York would be electrifying a lot more buildings than they currently are. 

Relevant: Svante Is Revolutionizing Carbon Management

And I think that and a lot more factories would be doing it. So we have to be realistic that one solution here is probably not the answer. And so to me, the challenge is around acceptance of more than one option, at least for the next 30 years, because we got to do something now. If we only say, well, electrification will get cheaper, it will get better, I’m sure it will. But what do we do in the meantime? 

And I think in the meantime we do need these additional tools to help us decarbonize the economy quickly. So the challenge is to have that open mind, especially when it comes to policy. And I think then we can solve it. And while we’re not the only part of the solution, we really believe that carbon capture absolutely will play a role and is playing a role. Given it’s really carbon capture 2.0 these days, it is not the same thing as when they did this at an oil refinery to pump more oil out of the ground. This is a whole new game here. I do think we’re a big part of the solution and just looking forward to opening those minds more. 

Political support for carbon capture & scalability

Violet George: And since you mentioned policy, if I may, I’d like to get your take on the kind of political support that carbon capture has been getting specifically from the United States government, as it’s been gaining a lot of attention in the last couple of years, especially. 

Anna Pavlova: The US government has provided tax incentives to a whole range of technologies. I think that was the right approach. Carbon capture is one of those. It’s an incentive based on how many tons you’ve captured and then you get value. If you put that CO2 into a petroleum displacement product like a jet fuel, you get $1.65 a ton, and if you sequester it or $1.60 a ton, I apologize. And if you sequester it, you get $1.85 a ton. I think that’s a great incentive. 

That may in itself not be enough in the sense that what we really also need to figure out is the transportation of CO2. How do we make this with the least amount of emissions and in the most cost effective way possible? I think there needs to be a little bit more policy work around transportation of CO2 and also speeding up the sequestration, putting it in the ground, and how does that become less expensive?

Violet George: And another question I have to ask, which is not policy related, but how scalable is CarbonQuest’s solution? 

Anna Pavlova: Yeah, it is absolutely scalable. I mean, we are, I would say we’re almost inundated with requests and some of that. We’d love to work with you, but we’re not ready. We need to be strategic and focused. And so for us, we love that we get so many people calling us, and I would say 99.9% of organizations that call us have done their due diligence, have looked at other solutions, have looked at electrification, have looked at it very seriously with engineers, with studies, and have said, look, we just don’t know what else to do. 

And maybe carbon capture is a solution, and in some cases it may not be, but in a lot of cases it is. And so we’re just trying to sort through which markets we should be attacking next, if you will. So we’re really, as I said, focused on CHP and fuel cells, but now we’re also stepping into things like biogenic CO2, which is wastewater facilities. We just got a grant to do feasibility studies around a waste to energy plant. 

So nobody wants to live next to an incinerator, but they also provide power, so how do you decarbonize those? And what else do you do with your trash? So there are, I think, all sorts of new and exciting markets and we’re also scaling within the markets that we’re currently in. 

1 comment
  1. Any attempts at quantitative carbon removal to affect the Earth’s climate will necessarily require many parts-per-million of CO2 to be removed and stored permanently. However, when one is reminded that just ONE ppm of CO2 represents 7.8 gigatons (7,800 million tons) the process becomes a fool’s journey . Even if that huge amount could be successfully stored the atmosphere would not even miss it. We are now at 420 ppm.. Minus one?

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