On April 15, Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital announced an investment of an undisclosed amount in Inventys, a Vancouver, Canada-based startup, for its technology that captures carbon from the fossil fuel production process and reuses it for enhanced oil recovery (EOR). The technology isn’t gleaming green, but it does promise to significantly diminish the environmental impact of the process and reduce the energy expended. The company also believes its sequestration process is more energy efficient and inexpensive than competing technologies at a cost of $15 per ton of CO2, one fifth less the cost of current technologies.
Inventys’ carbon capture technology, coined VeloxoTherm, uses a ceramic material mounted on a drum that spins inside the smokestack. When the flue gases contact the material, CO2 is trapped while other the other gases continue through it. Inventys uses low quality steam to capture the carbon, which is then condensed into liquid water leaving a pure stream of CO2 for use in EOR projects.
The high cost of carbon capture is the chief challenge facing commercialization of the technology. Thus cost mitigation is a major driver for investors. Present day carbon capture and storage technologies could add up to 80 percent to the cost of producing electricity.
The market potential is obvious — coal-fired power plants provide nearly 50 percent of all electricity in the United States and without implementing carbon capture technology, the projected increase in CO2 could have serious consequences for the Earth’s ecosystem. More than 30 percent of yearly greenhouse gas emissions in the country come from coal plants. Supporting technologies that reduce emissions could prevent more than 800 million tons of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere.
Inventys is currently in the first stages of piloting its gas separation process and Chrysalix’s capital infusion will help the company move towards commercialization by partnering with emitters, carbon-EOR operators, and heavy oil producers. The company currently has several planned pilots with major oil and gas producers that offer a clear path to commercially demonstrating cost claims within a three to four year time horizon.
Along with Chrysalix’s investment, partner Jean-Michel Gires will join the Board of Directors alongside former U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, who joined the board last December. Chu has spoken about the importance of carbon capture and sequestration technologies and the importance to provide solutions for countries to cut carbon in an age when energy from coal is still an inexpensive option. Inventys has previously raised capital from The RODA Group, which invested in Solazyme, Sustainable Development Technology Canada and Alberta’s Climate Change and Emissions Management Corporation that invested $3 million into the company in September 2012.
Inventys CEO Andre Boulet has also put money behind his company, disclosing to Bloomberg for a story in April that he has spent $12 million in the seven year-old company. Boulet expects his sales to reach hundreds of millions of dollars in five years, according to Bloomberg. Boulet’s estimates play on the fact that countries are expected to regulate carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants to a greater extent.
In Canada, the government will limit plants to 925 tons of CO2 emissions per megawatt hour starting in 2015. This is roughly half of what it is now. The United States isn’t on board yet, but will complete its first regulations related to carbon by January.
The government has however put resources behind technologies that will cut carbon. The Energy Department’s Advanced Research Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program has invested more than $41 million in carbon capture technologies as part of its IMPACCT program, based on the 15 past and current projects listed on the department’s website. IMPACCT stands for Innovative Materials and Processes for Advanced Carbon Capture Technologies.
The program aims to develop technologies that minimize the cost of removing carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plant exhaust by developing materials and processes. Retrofitting coal-fired power plants to capture the CO2 they produce would enable greenhouse gas reductions without forcing these plants to close, shifting away from the inexpensive and abundant U.S. coal supply. At the ARPA-E summit this February, the department’s Director, Cheryl Martin pointed to major breakthroughs in energy storage and carbon capture under development by the agency.
“One of the most important things that I’m excited about is our carbon capture portfolio,” she said.
In an interview on E&E TV’s OnPoint show last month, Martin was asked about ARPA-E’s timeline for commercializing their projects — she emphasized the importance of testing along the way.
“The next critical thing is going to be do the scaling factors work. When [the projects] go to a real flue-gas stream, are they going to be able to see the same types of numbers we saw? And that’s critical, right?” she said. “You don’t want to keep scaling something if those numbers don’t look like they’re going to be workable. And so you look at a few years in each of these stages, so we’ll get there. You see that folks like Duke Energy, Southern, Tri-State, right, all these guys are stepping up and partnering on projects and looking at National Carbon Capture Center. So we’re very encouraged that this will go as fast as we all can pull it through with each of us playing our own roles.”
The U.S. Department of Energy made slew of investments in carbon capture technologies as well last November. As part of President Barak Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the department invested $84 million in 18 technologies. The administration has so far put $6 billion into clean coal technologies.