June 19, 2024

A state-owned water utility in South Korea and a startup company creating technology to remove planet-heating carbon dioxide from the atmosphere have struck an agreement to construct a pilot project that combines the new climate technology with saltwater desalination.

This unprecedented partnership aims to give fresh water to heavy businesses in the region while also mitigating some of the pollution from a massive petrochemical manufacturing hub that is located nearby.

Depending on your point of view, collaborations such as this may be a creative means of reducing the harm that highly filthy company causes to the environment, or they could be a means of maintaining the use of fossil fuels when there are cleaner options available. In any case, it’s an illustration of how the fossil fuel sector is forming close ties with cutting-edge technologies like as direct air capture (DAC), which are meant to combat climate change but have some critics concerned about whether they may end up serving as a crutch for large polluters.

Luke Shors, president of the climate tech startup Capture6, based in California and New Zealand, which signed the deal, says, “We actually kind of agree with the critique that if you do a DAC project, and that makes you more water insecure, or more climate vulnerable, or if that perpetuates fossil fuels on the grid, that’s a problem.” “We should pursue these projects because we believe they can achieve multiple climate goals.”

The first-of-its kind collaboration is intended to clean up some of the pollution from a giant hub for petrochemical production nearby, on top of supplying fresh water to heavy industries in the area

This week, Shors’ firm and the South Korean water utility K-water and wastewater treatment company BKT inked a memorandum of understanding (MOU). Together, they will build what they claim is the first completely integrated carbon removal and saltwater desalination complex in the world.

Capture6 intends to construct Project Octopus, a carbon removal facility that it believes would ultimately extract hundreds of thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide annually from the atmosphere. This is an ambitious goal shared by a rising number of global entrepreneurs.

Project Octopus is special since it’s meant to operate in concert with a plant that produces freshwater from saltwater. Desalination facilities have a drawback in that its brine, which is saline, can be dangerous if it is discharged into the environment. Rather, Capture6 uses the wastewater as a feedstock for a liquid sorbent, which it uses to react with CO2 in the air, by extracting salt from it.

The solution captures carbon dioxide (CO2), which when combined with calcium forms a material that resembles chalk or limestone and prevents the greenhouse gas from leaking back into the environment. Another result of the procedure is fresh water.

These technologies have their own costs and are not a panacea for drought or climate change. Both desalination facilities and DACs need large amounts of electricity. Furthermore, because the pilot plant will be connected to the grid, it will continue to be primarily fueled by fossil fuels, producing the same greenhouse gas emissions that Project Octopus is designed to reduce.

Furthermore, the building is mainly being constructed to service the Daesan Industrial Complex, which generates 40% of the petrochemicals used in South Korea, which are generated from oil and gas. “It’s true that the industrial complex will exist? anything we choose to do. Therefore, in my opinion, it’s critical that we maintain a realistic perspective, says Leo Park, vice president of strategic development at Capture6. “I believe it’s critical that we find every method possible to lessen their carbon footprint.”

Project Octopus might eventually be able to capture up to 500,000 metric tonnes of CO2 yearly if it can develop into a plant of a commercial scale. Just 500 metric tonnes of atmospheric carbon dioxide are expected to be drawn down annually by the pilot facility, and the MOU also calls for plans to filter an additional 500 metric tonnes of CO2 from smokestacks before it is released into the sky.

That only makes up a small portion of the 17 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide that Daesan emits annually. Additionally, polluters must cut their CO2 emissions in half this decade in order to meet the global targets set forth in the Paris Agreement to fight climate change. At Project Octopus, the $2–3 million trial project is expected to begin building this year, but the $100–200 million commercial facility may not begin to take shape until late 2026 at the latest.