Here’s one way to handle carbon dioxide spewing from your industrial site -- capture it in a “SkyMine,” convert it to baking soda, and feed it to cows as antacid.
That’s a very simplified version of what startup Skyonic wants to do at its inaugural carbon capture project. On Monday, the Austin, Texas-based startup landed a $9 million investment from existing investors, as well as new backers including oil giants BP and ConocoPhillips to move those plans forward.
The funding is meant to back up Skyonic’s $125 million project at Capitol Aggregates Inc.’s cement plant in San Antonio, Texas, which is also partly funded by $28 million in Department of Energy grants.
Skyonic has commitments for additional investment, contingent on the company landing about $75 million in loans, CEO Joe Jones told Bloomberg on Monday. The additional commitments add up to about $35 million, Jones told Reuters. Skyonic has previously raised $3.5 million.
Skyonic’s SkyMine technology falls into a class of systems seeking to capture CO2 from coal plants, cement factories and other big emissions sources -- not to pump it underground, but to convert it into materials.
In Skyonic’s case, it mixes sodium hydroxide with flue gases to create sodium bicarbonate as a main byproduct. In the case of its cement plant project, the company plans to sell the chemical as an antacid for cattle feed, Jones told Bloomberg.
Skyonic’s process captures about 96 percent of the CO2 that flows through it, as well as scrubbing SOx and NOx, which is something coal-fired power plants are already required to do. That process yields hydrochloric acid and bleach as byproducts, which will be sold to PVS Chemicals, one of the new investors in Monday’s Series C round.
Northwater Capital Management led the financing, which also included Silicon Valley billionaire Carl Berg and Zachary Corp, owner of the Capital Aggregates cement plant.
If all goes according to plan, the project will begin construction in September and open in 2014. At its full scale, the plant is expected to offset 248,000 tons of CO2, or about 15 percent of the cement plant’s emissions.
Jones told Greentech Media in 2010 that Skyonic’s business plan could include carbon capture as a service, sales of equipment to utilities and manufacturers, or licensing a reference design for chemical producers.
Whether Skyonic can make the process pay for itself without some sort of carbon cap-and-trade program or another mechanism that puts a price on CO2 is less clear. The same problems have made other forms of carbon capture and storage economically challenging.
Right now, the main economic driver for capturing and injecting CO2 underground is for enhanced oil recovery, such as in Air Products’ $431 million project to capture CO2 from a Valero oil refinery and pipe it into Texas oil fields.
Scaling up full-scale carbon capture and storage at coal plants and other emission sources that aren’t conveniently located next to oil fields has been far more difficult to justify on today’s economic terms. Last year, utility AEP abandoned its CCS project at its Mountaineer coal plant, the first of its kind, citing weak economic conditions and uncertainty over carbon regulations.
In the meantime, Skyonic isn’t the only company looking to do something else with captured carbon besides pumping it underground. One that’s gotten a good deal of funding, as well as drawing its share of controversy, is Calera, a startup with technology to combine CO2 with seawater containing traces of calcium to form calcium carbonate, an ingredient of cement.
Feeding captured CO2 to algae grown for biofuel could be another approach. Biofuel and biochemicals company Codexis is piloting such a project with aluminum giant Alcoa, and utility Arizona Public Service won a $70.5 million Department of Energy grant for a project feeding carbon to algae, to give a few examples.