Start a Carbon Capture or Carbon Dioxide Removal Business

Today we will be looking at an industry that helps to reduce the effects of climate change by capturing harmful CO2 emissions before and after it enters the atmosphere and with smaller businesses, we will look at carbon dioxide removal (don’t look so worried planting trees is a means of carbon dioxide removal).

I will summarise this by saying that I don’t see a lot of clear opportunities unless you have lots of expertise and money. For small businesses, there will be some opportunity, some consulting work aimed at measuring companies’ “carbon footprint” and coming up with solutions to counter it so that they can brag that they are “carbon neutral”. But until a long-term solution is found for Eskom and their polluting power stations, the local industry will be mainly for vanity purposes. Scrap collectors burning the insulation casing off wires to get to the copper, Honda Civic’s modified to twice its book value with an exhaust smoking like a prostitute`, farting cows, etc. it won’t make any difference when South Africa’s electricity supply runs on fossil fuels (coal). If this is not an industry you have much of an interest in I’ll save you from my ramblings as I have a lot of nothing to say. I just don’t see a way out of the Eskom mess, not in our lifetime. You can do rather do something worthwhile and check out almost 400 business ideas over here.

Carbon Capture

I will be looking at two technologies carbon capture and storage and direct air capture. I will strictly focus on an industrial scale that is because the “carbon footprint” mongers among civilian folk is largely a circlejerk of virtue signalling due to the fact that only a handful of organisations produce the vast majority of greenhouse gasses (of which roughly 65% are carbon dioxide from industrial processes and fossil fuels such as *cough* the burning of coal for electricity production*cough*). Yes, not only is Eskom colossally incompetent their 15 coal-powered power stations are one of the biggest polluters in the world. I will also not be looking at western concepts that depend on good faith such as the carbon credit industry and instead focus on more practical solutions that might work in Africa.

South Africa is ranked 12th in the world’s list of worst emitters of greenhouse gases in the most recent data despite having a tiny industrial manufacturing sector and a third of adults are unemployed (the countries above SA all have industries that dwarf South Africa and most populations exceed SA). Now you might have seen lists in which South Africa is ranked as 13th or 14th maybe a year or two ago that is because many countries are taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint whereas South Africa has been doubling down: the 2007 inaugurated (and still ongoing) Medupi fiasco at a cost of R120 billion (so far) is the most expensive coal-powered power station in the world built at a time when most countries were phasing out fossil fuels such as coal. Although it is hard to say if coal was the deciding factor or if Medupi was built because the ANC’s investment proxy Chancellor House was in the business of supplying equipment for coal stations and did not have shares in companies that made equipment for nuclear, hydroelectric, gas, wind or solar power stations. The amount of money ($8.13  billion USD) pumped into Medupi is enough to buy 73.6% of First Solar –  the largest US-based solar panel manufacturer with an annual production of 1.9GW of solar modules and a provider of utility-scale PV power plants and the construction, maintenance and end-of-life panel recycling. Heck with $8 billion you could build a vertically integrated solar manufacturing plant and farm in every province.

Now the heat is on (excuse the pun), the first world has been putting pressure on South Africa – Britain, South Africa’s former colonial power has been telling the South African government “you have been very naughty boys”,  the ANC who hates to look bad in the eyes of the international community who helped them to power by sanctioning apartheid South Africa to try to dry up the water that they swim in are now finding themselves between a rock and a hard place. In one corner we have her majesty Queen Elizabeth II and her cohorts, the other South Africa’s electricity supply, and trade unions like the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) who wants to burn the country to the ground if their members fall off the coal gravy train – enter the middle ground: Carbon Capture.

South Africa’s equation is simple: NUM can be dealt with by bussing in people from Phoenix to sort them out. South Africa’s electricity supply is another matter, renewables won’t scale anytime soon to deal with demand nor do we have the money (in any case what will Eskom’s bloated workforce then do? Don’t make them twiddle their thumbs they will go to the CCMA as it’s not in their job description!), nuclear power stations take five to seven years to complete in highly-competent and corruption-free countries. By my estimation, it will take around 200 years to replace Eskom’s power stations (at a cost, I cannot compute right now as it is too large) with more environmentally friendly alternatives.

The South African government – fresh from a coup attempt – would be well advised to avoid any miscalculation that will increase electricity prices to push up the unbearable cost of living for “their people” further as nothing topples a government faster than an empty stomach.

To me the picture is clear, grandstanding rich countries (who are also the biggest polluters in the world) that want South Africa to essentially be lower on these lists and help “save the planet” needs to pick up the tab so we can find a way to capture harmful emissions before they are released or scrub the air of these harmful emissions afterward. We obviously cannot stop using coal anytime soon or we will be reading by candlelight while the U.S. Military – the single largest polluter in the world is using their fuel-burning planes and drones to fire missiles at 2-year-olds in the Middle East. But back to business.

Carbon capture and storage

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) or carbon capture and sequestration is the process of capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) before it enters the atmosphere, transporting it, and storing it. The aim is to prevent the release of CO2 from heavy industry with the intent of mitigating the effects of climate change. Now despite its fancy term this is not complicated. Large industrial companies like Mondi or Sappi or Consol or PPC (using known brands to illustrate my point) have a manufacturing process that produces these baddies. They then use the techniques mentioned below to reduce this.

Usually, the CO2 is captured from the sources, such as industrial plants and factories, and then stored in an underground geological formation so that companies can put “carbon neutral” badges on their website and pacify “activists” who bought a single share in the company so they don’t make a scene at the AGM (annual general meeting).

CO2 can be captured directly from an industrial source, such as a cement kiln used in cement manufacture, using a variety of technologies; including absorption, adsorption, chemical looping, membrane gas separation or gas hydration.

So where are the opportunities? If you are an adherent of my “Supply Value Logistics” methodology to find business opportunities then you would have already written down the following:  “absorption, adsorption, chemical looping, membrane gas separation or gas hydration”.

Another way to find opportunities is to look at what existing companies are doing, you might even find ironies [PDF, on page 2] such as multinational packaging and paper group Mondi boasting about planting 31 million trees annually as part of becoming climate neutral when we all know those trees will eventually end up in our copier machines.

Direct air capture

Direct air capture (DAC) is the newer technology, unlike Carbon capture and storage which captures at the source, DAC captures carbon dioxide (CO2) directly from the atmosphere or ambient air. Carbon dioxide removal is achieved when ambient air makes contact with chemical media, typically an aqueous alkaline solvent or functionalised sorbents.

We recently saw the biggest system of its type, the Swiss-built Orca which mixes greenhouse gas with water and pumps it underground. It was built by one of the most prominent players in this industry Climeworks which you should check out if this is an industry that interests you.

So to summarise Carbon capture and storage (CCS) captures and stores carbon dioxide before it is released into the atmosphere and Direct air capture (DAC) acts as an air purifier by capturing carbon dioxide after it has been released by exhaust fumes or degenerates like Eskom.

Carbon dioxide removal

This is the broader term where the abovementioned fall under as well, carbon dioxide removal (CDR), also known as greenhouse gas removal, is a process in which carbon dioxide gas (CO2) is removed from the atmosphere. This covers afforestation, agricultural practices that sequester carbon in soils, bio-energy with carbon capture and storage, ocean fertilization and enhanced weathering etc.

Where is the money to be made and who is paying?
When it comes to carbon dioxide removal a lot of companies and people want to do something to make themselves feel better even though in the bigger scheme of things it is unlikely to make much of a difference. So there is that idealistic market where you can plant a tree in their name etc.

As for the bigger, more expensive solutions
We have to remember things won’t change overnight. We are now drinking our drinks with soggy paper straws and there is still plastic in the oceans and there will be long after we are dead. Those people that want to impose expensive solutions on us must not allow South Africa’s modern infrastructure facade and pretty beaches and tourist traps like the V&A Waterfront to confuse them this is Africa. The majority of people are poor in SA, making South Africa a poor African country, many South Africans are unsure of where their next meal will come from, their problems are right here right now you cannot expect them to worry about icebergs melting in the Artic or what will happen after they are long dead.

We have many wealthy countries and people who put certain things including animals and inanimate objects above the lives of poor people. In SA there is no money (gov spending and debt levels are already unsustainable), our electricity is already too expensive and we are taxed to the hilt.  Then there are the existing patronage networks, anybody that wants to stop the coal gravy will be met with heavy opposition that stretches to the corridors of Luthuli House. Most of every R1 we pay for electricity is pilfered away due to incompetence and corruption there is no more room to manoeuver. If Eskom has to add even a 10c carbon capture premium to the kWh price we could see another coup d’état attempt and this time the people of Phoenix might even join in.

Further reading
Carbon dioxide scrubber
The 5 Best Ways to Store CO2 Pulled From the Air

Image credits
climeworks, carbfix, natureconservancy

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