Decarbonization Avenue : C2V - CO2 to Value

In fact

Converting the biomass carbon to oil and...pouring it down the ground

One would have thought this was just a flight of fancy until one heard that there was actually a company doing business with the idea.

The startup Charm is doing exactly that - converting biomass-based oil and actually pouring it into the earth.

Why would they do this?

One challenge with CO2 capture pathway is what to do with the captured CO2. While ways to utilize it are emerging, geological storage of CO2 is also considered. But CO2 being a gas, there could be challenges - known and unforeseen - with storing it underground. 

What if CO2 were converted into a liquid and sent down the ground? Could be an easier and a far more reliable way of ensuring that the carbon remains underground for a long time?

Charm thinks so. And the route they are taking is not converting CO2 to liquid, but converting tons of biomass that are also “carbon sinks” into a low grade oil through a well-established process called pyrolysis and sending that oil down the ground.

There is no doubt at all that this is an interesting option.

The obvious question would be - why not use that oil? Something that many other pyrolysis businesses are trying to do through refining the liquid.

For one, refining pyrolysis oil to a grade (similar to furnace oil) that can be used by industries could be expensive, and industries could take a while to accept it. More important, using the oil for burning releases the carbon captured by the plant back into the atmosphere, so the process is not really sequestration, it just is a net zero process.

On the other hand, storing the oil underground is a carbon negative process as you are essentially storing a carbon sink (which otherwise could have let out the carbon through a variety of processes over a period of time) such that the carbon will not be released for a long, long time.

Imagine this scenario: You grow billions of tons of biomass - hopefully quickly - and then convert all these to oil and send them gurgling down into earth. You are essentially taking CO2 off the atmosphere and putting it deep underground. This is in fact almost reversing the process that we have been following last 100 years - where we took oil, which is nothing but biomass converted into liquid, from underground and let the carbon out into the atmosphere,

Will Charm’s charm work? Too early to say, but a creative idea all the same.

See a Grist article on Charm. 

Charm website:

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