A Look at the World’s First Carbon Capture Technology by CleanO2

FortisBC is no stranger to innovations helping customers reduce their carbon footprint in residential homes and commercial businesses.

A leader in renewable gas product offerings and other incentive programs, the energy delivery company, has partnered with a Calgary-based company to pilot a world-first carbon capture technology that reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and saves energy.

The technology, produced by CleanO2 Carbon Capture Technologies (CleanO2), reduces the energy usage of commercial boilers that use natural gas and captures carbon dioxide (CO2) and converts it into sodium carbonate. Sodium carbonate, commonly referred to as soda ash, is a much sought after alkali chemical used in the manufacture of glass, detergents, chemicals

The CleanO2 unit, called ‘CARBINX’, is about the size of a residential air conditioner and promises to cut GHG emissions from business operations anywhere from 10 to 20 per cent depending on the size of the boiler.

“We think this is great program,” says Jason Wolfe, Director of Energy Solutions for FortisBC whose organization intends to sign on 10 companies for the initial pilot project.

“Many of our commercial customers are looking to reduce their carbon emissions, but are also exceptionally cost-conscious. So this is a technology that can save energy and cut emissions, with a system that pays for itself over time.”

Here’s how.

The CARBINX units, typically placed in commercial building mechanical rooms and next to natural gas appliances, features two tap-in points to draw in a portion of the waste flue gas.

The flue gas is first run through a reaction chamber, using a carbon-reduction chemical that reacts specifically with the emissions to reduce their impact.

The heat generated from that process along with the chemicals are then run through a heat exchanger and stored in a vessel located in the bottom of the device.

“That results in essentially a storage tank of hot water,” explains Jaeson Cardiff, the upstart President & CEO of Calgary-based CleanO2. “This heated water serves to pre-heat the domestic water prior to the use of the domestic hot water heating system.”

Municipalities typically pipe water to the boilers with temperatures anywhere from 7 to 10 degrees Celsius – forcing the hot water tanks to heat the liquid up to between 60 and 80 degrees for home use. The CleanO2 unit interrupts the transmission from outside to warm the water up to about 40 degrees Celsius before the liquid enters the tanks.

“As a result, the tank doesn’t have to work as hard to meet the energy needs of the building,” says Cardiff.

The carbon-reduced gas is then piped back through the existing chimney by means of a fan. Both processes result in GHG reductions and energy savings.

“Many of our commercial customers are looking to reduce their carbon emissions, but are also exceptionally cost-conscious.”

However, that doesn’t tell the whole story. The chemicals produced through the process creates a commercial grade soda ash, a white powder that is vacuumed out of the chamber into containers for transporting back to CleanO2 headquarters. From there, the product is sent off for distribution to various locations.

“The great thing here is because natural gas is so clean, we don’t have to do any post-processing to come up with a pure form of sodium carbonate,” Cardiff says.

“And we’re talking about a huge industry. Roughly 52 million tonnes of soda ash are consumed on an annual basis globally. According to Statistics Canada, there are roughly 152,000 commercial distribution locations spread out across this country.

“If we hit every single one of those locations, the amount of soda ash that we would be producing would only account for six per cent of the global market share.

“So there is plenty of business opportunity here in Canada to contribute to the global soda ash marketplace.”

Because CleanO2 enters a profit-sharing arrangement with its customers for soda ash distribution, most commercial businesses will have their initial investments paid off within about four years.

Additionally, some customers who can use the soda ash in their businesses operations – like hotels who need lots of laundry detergent – will see even greater benefits.

It’s one of several factors that have caused FortisBC’s telephones to literally ring off the hook since their pilot project with CleanO2 was launched this fall. (Customers already signed up include Cadillac Fairview Richmond Centre and Blue Horizon Hotel.)

“Our phones started ringing with other customers wanting to have this unit because they can see the benefits in it,” says Wolfe. “It’s pretty cool for our customers to be part of the world’s first carbon capture business anywhere.”

“To have a technology that helps our customers remain profitable while reducing their overall emissions is an excellent prospect. If the pilot works well there could be a large market for it across this province.”

Adds Cardiff, “What we’re doing with FortisBC is gaining everyone’s trust and looking to follow through on our promises. We’re new and want to be sure everyone is comfortable before we go too far down the rabbit hole.”

“To have a technology that helps our customers remain profitable while reducing their overall emissions is an excellent prospect.” Image courtesy of CleanO2 Carbon Capture Technologies Inc.

In the meantime, CleanO2 is looking to expand beyond commercial businesses. Included among several other projects locally, four residential prototype units being built for ATCO and Union Gas will test the ground to see if the technology can be used in single-detached family residences.

“We aim to be commercialized in at least three other countries in the next five years,” says Cardiff. “We already have a foot in the door in the U.S., Ireland and Mexico.

Additionally, delegates from Norway and Germany visited the company’s prototype commercial unit on display in another Calgary-based pilot project.

“I believe natural gas will advance the economic systems in most countries and I really do see it having a dominant role in our energy infrastructures in the future,” Cardiff adds.

As part of overall Canada-wide efforts to advance projects like this one, the Natural Gas Innovation Fund (NGIF) was created by the Canadian Gas Association (CGA) to support the funding of cleantech innovation in the natural gas value chain.

“The fund fills a technology development gap in the sector and invests in innovation enabling natural gas solutions for current and emerging challenges facing Canada’s energy system,” says John Adams, Managing Director.

“It is funded by the natural gas delivery industry with access to pooled research and development (R&D) innovation funding, leveraged intelligence, and a combined backyard across Canada to field test innovation.”

“At the same time, NGIF advances natural gas cleantech projects led by startups and organizations with the right innovation for market uptake and commercial viability.”

NGIF’s goal is to create a diversified portfolio of investments, strategic partnerships, and a trusted investment model, with the overall aim to improve environmental performance by continuously improving air quality and reducing GHG emissions; afford greater affordability and competitiveness by lowering energy bills and increasing the availability of high efficiency, lower cost services; and enhancing safety and resiliency with a constant emphasis on integrity improvements.

Dennis Lanthier is an award-winning writer and corporate communications specialist with almost two decades of experience in oil and gas. He earned an International Association of Business Communicator’s Gold Quill in 2011 for the creation of a magazine distributed to TransCanada Pipeline’s employees and retirees. Dennis is now a freelance writer working with several oil and gas associations in the energy sector.