If Keith's company can live up to promises laid out in the new Harvard study it would leapfrog Climeworks, a Swiss company that has already launched a commercial-scale plant that can use its own DAC process for around $600 a metric ton.
Carbon Engineering, a Canadian company funded by Bill Gates and Canada oil sands financier Norman Murray Edwards, revealed that is has developed a new technology in order to remove CO2 from the air, reaching a new and important threshold in this field.
Their work, titled "A Process for Capturing CO2 from the Atmosphere", was detailed June 7 in the journal Joule. Following that, several tech firms have built prototypes of devices that will remove carbon from the air.
"We've bought the smallest scalable unit of each piece of technology we have".
Keith said an industrial-scale plant could make fuel at a dollar a litre. "So we hope it is really a turning point".
One of the main problems with the technology to date has simply been one of scale and, more importantly, cost. "Direct air capture" that removes the gas from ambient air has possible since the 1940s, but - at a cost estimated in 2011 to be as much as $1,000 per metric ton of Carbon dioxide - it has always been viewed as too expensive to be practical. In the fuel cases, the carbon is essentially recycled and replaces fossil fuels pulled from the ground, hence the process is carbon neutral.
The technique involves "sucking" Carbon dioxide out of the air, combining it with hydrogen and creating a liquid fuel. The company has been sucking carbon dioxide from the air since 2015 and producing fuel at a pilot plant in Squamish, British Columbia, since since the end of a year ago.
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The fuel can now be produced at a cost that would not raise the prices to consumers at the pump, he said, and "as with anything, if you build lots of something the cost will come down".
"At CE, we've been working on direct air capture since 2009, running our pilot plant since 2015, and we now have the data and engineering to prove that DAC can achieve costs below (US$100 per tonne)".
It has always been thought however that Carbon Engineering's methods just weren't financially viable. Daniel Friedmann left MDA in 2016 and has joined the start-up company as board chairman; he in turn recruited Steve OIdham, who was vice-president for strategic development at MDA, to become its chief executive last January.
However, plans to capture Carbon dioxide directly from the air have been regarded as somewhat more substantial - essentially mirroring the actions of trees.
If the company can qualify for government subsidies, the price of recycling CO2 could be cheaper than the price of carbon credits under California's cap-and-trade program. The market will get a further boost as the Canadian government and US states adopt clean fuel standards that will provide incentives for marketers to purchase low-carbon alternatives.
Their research also suggests that people will soon be able to produce gasoline and jet fuel from little more than limestone, hydrogen, and air.
"Our low-carbon fuel is entirely compatible with any automobile, any truck, any airplane that exists today", He said.