One of the world’s largest plants built to remove carbon dioxide from the air in the struggle to lessen the impacts of climate change is operating in Adams County. Global Thermostat, the facility’s owner, said it’s ready to take its technology to market.
The company, which announced Tuesday that Colorado is now its official headquarters, has developed its process since 2010 and has run a research and development facility and pilot plants about 30 miles northeast of Denver since 2020. Company officials said the plant shown off during a news conference can remove 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over a year and is a milestone in efforts to reduce heat-trapping greenhouse gasses.
“This is a commercial-scale unit. It’s still small (compared) to the climate change task, but it’s a necessary and notable step on that pathway,” said Nicholas Eisenberg, head of Global Thermostat’s market development, policy and engagement.
The plant, called direct air capture, uses big fans to pull in outside air. The carbon dioxide is separated out in the process, which includes using proprietary material to bind the molecules.
The carbon dioxide can be stored underground or used to make cement, synthetic aviation fuel or other products that normally would use carbon dioxide produced by fossil fuels.
Global Thermostat CEO Paul Nahi said the company is focused on “deploying best-in-class carbon capture technology” for removing carbon from the air and delivering it for consumer products.
Global Thermostat is using a Department of Energy grant to design a module that could pull 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually from the atmosphere.
Gov. Jared Polis and former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., joined company and state officials at the news conference and tour of the 2-acre site south of Brighton.
Companies around the world have been working on technology to remove carbon dioxide directly from the air to tackle climate change. The 2021 federal infrastructure law included billions of dollars for companies developing the systems and the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act tripled tax credits for direct air capture technology.
Efforts to make carbon removal part of the arsenal to fight climate change has drawn fire from environmentalists who question its feasibility and emphasize moving more quickly to renewable energy sources and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
However, climate scientists worldwide agree there is a need for carbon dioxide removal on a large scale to fend off the worst effects of a warming world, said Guy Wohl, an associate on the strategy team at RMI, a Colorado-based research and consulting organization.
“According to climate scientists, we are talking billions of tons of removal per year,” Wohl said.
Using plants is just one way to remove carbon dioxide from the air, Wohl said. Other methods include restoring ecosystems and managing agricultural lands to better absorb carbon.
A recent report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said by the early 2030s, the worldwide temperature is likely to exceed the mark of 1.5-degree Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, above pre-industrial temperatures. Scientists have warned that exceeding 1.5 degrees will lead to catastrophic heat waves, droughts and other events so extreme that people won’t be able to adapt.
Colorado has experienced droughts and more destructive wildfires as the climate has become warmer and drier. The Colorado River, which starts in Colorado and sustains 40 million people across the West, is drying up.
Dozens of companies across the world are working on ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere, Wohl said. Global Thermostat has been involved for a while, he said. “It was one of the early names that you heard in the industry before it got mainstream attention.”
Swiss company Climeworks has a plant in Iceland that can remove 4,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually, Wohl said. The Canadian company Carbon Engineering is working with 1PointFive, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, on a direct air capture project in Texas.
RMI has an accelerator called Third Derivative aimed at startups developing direct carbon removal.
Wohl said as companies make their plants more energy efficient and incorporate solar power and other renewable sources, the per-ton cost of removing carbon from the air will decrease. He likened the benefits of more widespread adoption of the technology to the steep declines in the cost of solar power, now competitive with more traditional energy sources.
Eisenberg with Global Thermostat said the company will look at participating in the federal programs available to direct air capture ventures. The company has raised tens of millions of dollars from private investors.
Global Thermostat has worked with the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense on projects, Eisenberg said. He said there were several reasons the company decided to locate in Colorado.
“We thought about what Colorado, the Denver area and Adams County have to offer in terms of engineering talent, oil and gas workers, who have a lot of skills that are transferable, high-tech talent and a receptive policy environment with a government that seems to be really interested in addressing climate change and carbon management.”
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