As the world continues to grapple with the urgent challenge of climate change, there remains no shortage of new technologies and solutions emerging to address the problem.
One is carbon mineralisation, a process that has the potential to capture and store large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) in stable, solid minerals.
What is Carbon Mineralisation?
Carbon capture techniques are, of course, nothing new – but while many involve simply capturing CO2 emissions and injecting them into underground geological formations for long-term storage, carbon mineralisation looks to replicate natural processes and provide a potentially valuable by-product.
It converts CO2 into stable, usable, materials through chemical reactions with minerals such as magnesium, calcium, and iron. This process can occur naturally in the Earth’s crust over millions of years, but researchers have found a way to accelerate and scale up this process to make it a viable option for carbon sequestration.
Carbon Mineralisation Investment
A report by the Global CSS Institute, an international organisation focused on accelerating the deployment of carbon capture and storage technologies, says since 2008, some $5 billion has been invested in its research and development of carbon mineralisation.
A number are now entering the market and attracting attention while work to improve the technology and reduce costs continues in its bid to become a widely adopted practice.
According to Lux Research, the global market size for CO2 utilisation is set to reach a market value of $70 billion by 2030, which will then increase to $550 billion by 2040.
Of this, it believes the market for carbon mineralisation will grow from under $100 million in 2020 to in excess of $250 million by 2030.
Less expensive and risky to conventional carbon capture techniques, the big advantage of carbon mineralisation is its ability to create useful products. From cement ingredients for the construction industry to fertilisers for agricultural purposes, it takes harmful carbon and creates from it useful tools.
Explains Canada-headquartered CarbonCure Technologies which is looking to transform the concrete industry:
“Concrete is made by combining water, cement, and aggregates like sand or gravel. When carbon dioxide is introduced into this mix, it reacts with the cement and mineralises, becoming permanently stored in the concrete. The concrete is effectively liquid rock that converts the carbon dioxide into stone.”
Thus, carbon is safely stored and the concrete industry – the production of which contributes to around 7% of global CO2 emissions – can off-set its own carbon footprint.
Innvovators within Carbon Mineralisation
CarbonCure’s own mission is to reduce 500 million tonnes of CO2 annually by 2030 – it is hoping to make its concrete technology the standard going forward. The private company has, so far at least, primarily been driven by venture capitalists who can see the potential.
London-based Carbon Clean Solutions, on the other hand, has developed a modular carbon capture and mineralisation system that can be easily installed at industrial sites, capturing CO2 emissions and converting them into useful products such as baking soda and other chemicals.
Meanwhile, Canadian firm Carbon Upcycling Technologies is pursuing a similar path with the aim of helping:
“the hard-to-decarbonise cement industry transform local industrial by-products and natural materials into superior additives”.
“Our novel technology platform uses carbon dioxide emissions from any industry, combined with natural materials or industrial wastes—from coal plants, steel plants, glass manufacturing and more—to unlock new materials with improved performance and lower emissions.”
It has raised $6.2 million so far, concluding its latest venture capital funding round last year.
UK-based Carbon8 has utilised its own technology to create CircaBuild and CircaGrow. CircaBuild provides what it terms ‘carbon-neutral alternatives to virgin aggregates’ for the construction industry; CircaGrow a carbon negative fertiliser.
The CO2 is permanently and safely stored within the new material, contributing to the decarbonisation of industry, while giving the former ash a new life, “making it a circular product”.
Last year, Carbon8 closed a $6 million funding round. International cement group Vicat, energy giant EDF and its corporate venture arm, EDF Pulse Ventures, co-invested $5 million.
Julien Villeret, chief innovation officer at the EDF Group said:
“The development of CO2 sequestration is key to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. The solution developed by Carbon8 enables our industrial customers to accelerate decarbonization rapidly while integrating themselves into a circular economy logic.”
The sector faces some hurdles however.
The technology is still in its early stages of development and requires significant investment in research and development, infrastructure, and operational costs. Additionally, the process itself requires large amounts of energy – which can result in significant greenhouse gas emissions.
Additionally, the long-term stability of the mineral products has yet to be tested over time which raises concerns about the potential for the carbon to be released back into the atmosphere.
Not to mention, of course, the vested interests of all those companies currently dominating the markets in which it is making to look an impact.
Yet progress is being made and opportunities for investment are both there and crucial to its success.
The market is still in its early stages but is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years.
According to the International Energy Agency, over the past decade, global venture capital investments for CO2 use start-ups has reached nearly $1 billion.
It adds that Lanzatech, which uses biological conversion of CO2 into fuels, raised over $500 million since its creation in 2005, and is now valued at $2.2 billion. In North America, the NRG COSIA Carbon XPrize, which supports the development of novel CO2 use opportunities with a $20 million global competition, selected building materials companies CarbonCure and CarbonBuilt to receive a $7.5 million prize.
The technology and applications are there – now it needs to demonstrate it can deliver.
While taking harmful CO2 and using it to create the building blocks for industry sounds like a dream ticket, the hurdles it has still to face – in terms of energy use and proof of long-term stability – remain. However, continued investment will allow it to improve and fine-tune its commercial metrics. If it does, it could have a significant impact in this sector.
Companies to Watch
Carbon Clean Solutions, Lazatech, CarbonCure Technologies, Carbon8, Carbon Upcycling Technologies, CarbonBuilt.