New centre aims to capture CO2 and monetize the emissions

The goal of a new laboratory on the outskirts of Calgary is to not only capture harmful greenhouse gas emissions, but find a way to make money from the carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide gases could be turned into building materials, pharmaceuticals and other products

The new Alberta Carbon Conversion Technology Centre will be adjacent to a natural gas power plant in Calgary. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

The goal of a new laboratory on the outskirts of Calgary is to not only capture harmful greenhouse gas emissions, but find a way to make money from the carbon dioxide.

The $20-million centre will be a testing ground for leading edge technologies to turn carbon dioxide gases into something valuable, such as consumer goods, building materials or even pharmaceutical medicine.

The first companies to use the Alberta Carbon Conversion Technology Centre will be the five finalists for the Carbon XPrize, a contest to convert carbon dioxide emissions from the energy industry into usable products.

"All of these companies have already proven their technology work. Now they are proving that it works at a commercial application scale," said Deron Bilous, Alberta's minister of economic development and trade, in an interview. "This facility is critical if we once again want to be world leaders when it comes to developing innovative technologies." 
Enmax's Shepard Energy Centre in east Calgary began operating in 2015. (Enmax)

One of the companies is Calgary-based Carbon Upcycling Technologies, which produces nanoparticles from carbon emissions for use in concrete, plastics, adhesives and batteries, among other products.

"[Carbon Upcycling] is taking what used to be a byproduct or waste product and turning it into something useful," said Bilous.

The centre opens its doors Friday morning and will be located at the Shepard Energy Centre, a natural gas power plant. The location allows companies to test their technology at an operational industrial facility. Officials say it's one of only a few centres in the world where carbon conversion technologies can be tested at this scale.

"This is a live facility," said Bilous. "It's unique; it's one-of-a-kind."   
Alberta Minister of Economic Development and Trade Deron Bilous says the Alberta Carbon Conversion Technology Centre is "one-of-a-kind." (CBC)

In Alberta, oilsands companies have worked to improve environmental performance by reducing impacts to land and water. The biggest challenge is greenhouse gases, according to Dan Wicklum, chief executive of Canada's Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA).

"[Oilsands companies] do not have great masses of university professors globally that are working on those specific problems right now, so I would say the GHG area is probably the one that is the most challenging," said Wicklum, during an interview in March. "It's the most challenging for every sector everywhere, so that's not unique to oilsands." 

Alberta's oilsands produces 9.3 per cent of Canada's overall GHG emissions.

The federal and provincial governments shared the cost of the new centre, which will be owned by a subsidiary of Alberta Innovates. 
Dan Wicklum says greenhouse gas emissions are the biggest challenge for the oilsands. 1:24

About the Author

Kyle Bakx

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Kyle Bakx is a Calgary-based journalist with CBC's network business unit. He's covered stories across the country and internationally.

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