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Boeing-backed startup is building a plant to zap seawater and grab CO2

Boeing
Boeing

By Michelle Ma

(Bloomberg) — Boeing Co.-backed startup Equatic is building a demonstration plant in Singapore that will remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while also producing hydrogen, the company announced Tuesday.

The project will move the three-year-old startup one step closer to commercializing its unique technology that relies on seawater and electrolyzers. When completed, the plant will be capable of capturing about 3,650 tons of carbon dioxide and producing over 100 tons of hydrogen annually, according to the company. That would put it near the scale of the 4,000-ton-per-year facility built by Climeworks AG, which is currently the world’s largest carbon removal plant.

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The $20 million plant is being constructed by a water desalination plant in Tuas, Singapore, and is co-funded by PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency; the National Research Foundation; Singapore and the University of California, Los Angeles’s Institute for Carbon Management. Singapore has set a target of achieving net zero by 2050 and emphasized the need for carbon capture and hydrogen to get there given its small geographic size and lack of renewable energy resources.

The facility will include a total of 10 modules, and Chief Operating Officer Edward Sanders projected that the plant’s first unit will start operating by July 2024, capturing 1 ton of CO2 per day. The rest will come online within a year. The hydrogen produced and CO2 captured will be allocated to the project partners.

In addition to signing up potential customers, the biggest risk for Equatic is overcoming engineering challenges. “I think the challenge has changed a lot, but right now it is scaling up the physical size of the unit and maintaining the performance at a larger scale,” Sanders said.

Equatic removes carbon through seawater electrolysis and is already operating two pilot plants, one in the Port of Los Angeles and another in Tuas. Unlike the two pilot plants, the larger demonstration plant will utilize a new proprietary anode material within its electrolyzers that doesn’t produce chlorine gas, typically a harmful byproduct of producing hydrogen using seawater electrolysis.

This demonstration plant will be an important test for Equatic’s electrolyzer technology and whether it can perform as expected at a larger scale, according to Mark Daly, BloombergNEF’s head of technology and innovation. Seawater can be much more damaging to electrolysis equipment than the pure water used in lab settings, and Equatic will have to engineer its technology to avoid degradation in a real-world setting.

“Because all these systems have very high [capital expenditure], particularly in the early stages, they need to prove that they can be resilient to some pretty dirty inputs,” Daly said.

Equatic is simultaneously working on plans and site selection for its commercial-scale plant, which it says will remove an ambitious 100,000 tons of CO2 a year. (Research shows the world will likely need to remove billions of tons annually by mid-century to limit global warming to relatively safe levels.) Though it doesn’t have a location, the company expects the first batch of electrolyzers to come online in 2026. Boeing has already committed to purchasing 62,000 tons of CO2 removal services and 2,100 tons of hydrogen, a potential feedstock for sustainable aviation fuel, the production of which needs to be dramatically scaled up. Sanders said buyers have committed to purchase 15% to 20% of the CO2 that the commercial plant removes and 10% to 15% of the hydrogen it produces, but it will still need to find purchasers for the remaining outputs.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.