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Turning CO2 into something useful... and turning a profit

Carbon dioxide emissions from industry, transport and modern living are blamed for climate change. Now businesses in Scotland and elsewhere are devising ways to capture and store the greenhouse gas.

Richard Haggart reports.

The UK and Scottish governments have committed to being carbon neutral by 2050 and 2045 respectively – and the number of companies looking to make money from carbon dioxide is growing.  

Reports suggest that of the estimated 37 gigatonnes of CO2 emitted each year these new industries could lock up seven gigatonnes. These companies are not claiming to resolve the climate change issue – rather to help in reducing their carbon footprint and hopefully reward green investors with profits along the way! 

Efficiency and cost dictate that if energy intensive firms which rely on burning gas to fuel their processes can use some of the CO2 produced as a raw material for other products profits can be gleaned and the uneconomical requirement to capture their carbon and bury it can be reduced.  

Carbon dioxide is already being used in novel ways to create products including fertilisers, proteins and building blocks. 

In Scotland, the langoustine processing firm Cuantec extracts a natural substance from the processing waste called chitin. It is already being used in the making of medicines, pesticides and fertilisers and it could soon become a completely compostable alternative to traditional polymer fish packaging.  

An alternative to traditional asphalt road coverings is being developed from waste plastic by Macreburn in Dumfries and Galloway. A one kilometre stretch of road made with its patented mix would use the equivalent of around 684,000 plastic bottles or 1.8 million single-use plastic bottles.

 In Leeds, Carbon 8 Aggregates has produced building blocks by mixing chimney ash from a waste incinerator with water to form artificial limestone which permanently captures the carbon and forms the main ingredient for building blocks and other purposes.  

Digestate, the by-product of anaerobic digestion, is already spread on fields as fertiliser but by mixing it with nutrient-rich wastes from industry, sewerage plants, farms or the food industry and using CO2 to bind the nutrients and sludge, higher-grade fertiliser pellets are being produced by CCM technologies in Swindon.  

In Suffolk, horse muck and straw from Newmarket racecourse are put through a bio-digester to create a gas. Using membranes, food-grade CO2 is separated and sold on to a local brewery to put bubbles in drinks. 

A Swiss company, Climeworks, has developed a plant that draws in air and chemically binds the CO2 it contains to a filter. Once saturated, the filter is heated to 100°C. This releases the CO2 which is collected as concentrated CO2 gas for customers or for ‘negative emissions technologies’. CO2-free air is released back into the atmosphere and the continuous cycle is ready to start again. The filter is reused many times and lasts for several thousand cycles. 

These companies are at the forefront of recycling technology. As the political landscape develops in its desire to become carbon neutral these companies may well lead the way in making profits from carbon.