British Columbia

In fight to combat climate change, Squamish Nation joins forces to capture carbon

For years, Chris Lewis has watched the effects of climate change from his front door. The waters of the Seymour River on the North Shore's Capilano reserve in Squamish Nation territory keep rising.

'Human beings can do amazing things when we put our mind to it' says engineer

Squamish Nation spokesperson Chris Lewis at the nation's band office with paintings of Squamish elders behind him. When he was approached by a company to help spearhead a cutting edge carbon-capture system, he jumped at the opportunity. (Angela Sterritt/CBC)

For years, Chris Lewis has watched the effects of climate change from his front door. The waters of the Seymour River on the North Shore's Capilano reserve in Squamish Nation territory keep rising. 

"Right now, the river is bank to bank, and what we're noticing more and more is that the rivers are becoming a little bit more flashy, hence the water levels come up at all times of the year," Lewis said from the Ch'i'ch'elxwi7kw, or the Seymour River.

Lewis, a spokesperson for the Squamish Nation, said the river's high waters are an effect of our warming climate. And he's concerned for the salmon that spawn there.

"And this [high water levels all year round] is a little bit worrisome because the coho and the chum were just in here spawning.

"And when the waters get this flashy it could strand all of the eggs that have already been spawned," he added.

So when Lewis was approached by a Squamish, B.C., company to help spearhead a cutting edge carbon-capture system, he jumped at the opportunity.

"That was something really exciting for Squamish Nation and we really jumped on that canoe and kind of said 'how do we do it?'" Lewis said. 

"Not a silver bullet'

Policymakers around the world are working on ways to keep global warming within the two-degree limit of the Paris agreement. The three-year-old pact is aimed at limiting the rise in temperatures to less than 2 C above pre-industrial levels to stave off the worst effects of climate change.

But some worry that carbon dioxide emissions won't be cut fast enough, saying carbon may need to be actively removed from the atmosphere.

Carbon Engineering, a clean-energy company running a carbon-capture facility in Squamish, wants to be a part of the solution to address climate change. 

"It's not a silver bullet or a catch-all but it's on par with wind and solar power, electric vehicles and energy efficient buildings," said Geoffrey Holmes, an engineer with Carbon Engineering.

A rendering of Carbon Engineering’s 'air contactor design.' The company uses carbon-capture technology that captures CO₂ directly from the atmosphere, and synthesizes it into clean transportation fuels. (Carbon Engineering)

The system captures carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere, which can then be stored underground or converted into carbon-neutral fuel, said Holmes.

At least seven companies around the world are working with carbon-capture technology, but only one, the Swiss-based Climeworks, has built a commercial-scale plant.

Signed MOU

Carbon Engineering's plant pulls about one ton of carbon each day from the air and produces about two barrels of fuel, said Holmes. He said it has been capturing carbon dioxide from the air since 2015 and synthesizing clean fuels since 2017.

Holmes said the company is now in early discussions with several partners interested in deploying commercial facilities.

The Squamish Nation has signed a memorandum of understanding with the company aimed at ensuring Carbon Engineering becomes operational one day.

Geoff Holmes is an engineer with the Squamish-based carbon capture company, Carbon Engineering. He says while the technology is not a silver bullet, he has high hopes that it will help to tackle the the effects of climate change. (Angela Sterritt/CBC)

Lewis said he is excited about the prospect that the carbon-capture facility could one day make the town of Squamish the first carbon-neutral town in the world. 

"If we're the first ones to see climate change in our territory, what are we doing to combat it?" Lewis said.

For Holmes, the Carbon Engineering's engineer, the chance at a partnership to tackle climate change is big.

"Human beings can do amazing things when we put our mind to it."


Angela Sterritt

CBC Reporter

Angela Sterritt is a journalist from the Gitxsan Nation. Sterritt's news and current affairs pieces are featured on national and local CBC platforms. Her CBC column 'Reconcile This' tackles the tensions between Indigenous people and institutions in B.C. Have a story idea?