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Backed by Airbus and Air Canada, company says it's closer to pulling carbon from the sky


Canada’s Carbon Engineering Ltd. said an undisclosed investment from Airbus S.E. will accelerate the industrial-scale deployment of its proprietary direct air capture technology, which pulls carbon dioxide directly from the surrounding air, and presents a critical opportunity for airlines seeking to decarbonize.

The Squamish, B.C.-based clean technology company, which specializes in the commercialization of direct air capture (DAC) technology, has been working with the aerospace giant for the past eight months, beginning with the announcement in March that Airbus would purchase 400,000 tonnes of carbon removal credits from Carbon Engineering’s U.S. partner, 1PointFive, a subsidiary of American oil producer Occidental Petroleum Corp.

Carbon Engineering said Airbus’ latest investment, along with a $6.75 million equity investment from Air Canada, will be used over the next two years to introduce and test a lineup of improved equipment and operational procedures at its Squamish innovation centre — changes the company bets will cut the cost of building and operating commercial DAC plants, including a project already underway in the Texas Permian Basin by 1PointFive.

At a press conference Nov. 17, Carbon Engineering CEO Daniel Friedmann said the company’s technology could be deployed by 1PointFive at dozens of DAC plants in the United States over the next decade, with each plant capable of removing up to one million metric tons of CO2 per year

“Carbon removal through direct air capture provides a solution that can address any carbon dioxide emission, no matter how hard it is (to capture), regardless of where it is emitted,” said Friedmann. “It means it can be used to address most of the difficult emissions, making true net zero possible.”

Friedmann said large-scale deployment of the technology in the U.S. and abroad will require more airlines and other large emitters to purchase carbon credits since the financing of DAC facilities is dependent on demand for the product.

“We can decarbonize aviation, with a reasonable amount of time and sites,” Friedmann said. Airbus and Air Canada are leading the way to make this possible. Now we look to the rest of the airlines to commit to off-take and reserve their spot at these facilities.”

The aviation sector has become a target for environmentalists and policymakers concerned about the impact the industry has on global CO2 emissions. Alternative fuels, electric and hydrogen technologies, as well as offsets and carbon capture have been floated as potential solutions for a sector that is committed to reaching net-zero carbon emissions from operations by 2050.

A spokesperson for Airbus, the world’s largest planemaker, said the company hopes to accelerate the development and deployment of direct air capture technology.

“As COP27 ends and the urgency to act on climate actions is rising, we want to reinforce our trust and our support in Carbon Engineering and invest again in their technology to accelerate its development and deployment,” said Karine Guenan, vice-president of ZEROe Ecosystem, Airbus, at a news conference. “This investment contributes to the Canadian economy, making the country an actor in supporting our ambitions toward net zero by 2050.”

In an interview following Thursday’s announcement, Friedmann said Carbon Engineering, which develops and licenses its technology to partners like 1PointFive, has seen more progress in the deployment of its technologies outside of Canada, specifically in the U.S., where government incentives to finance and build DAC projects have galloped ahead under the U.S. inflation act.

“The approach in the U.S. is to incentivize by providing a tax refund effectively,” Friedmann said. “So you can actually go to the financial community of the world and say, ‘look, the U.S. government is footing some of this bill (and) we have some customers’ — and you can finance a facility. I cannot do that easily in Canada today, or my partners can’t, because there’s no similar situation here.”

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Clarification: An earlier version of this story said Air Canada had made an “undisclosed” contribution to Carbon Engineering to advance the company’s direct air capture technology. However, Air Canada disclosed Thursday that it will make a $6.75-million equity investment in the project.