University of Calgary

Scientist’s company short-listed for $25-million Virgin Earth Challenge prize

UToday HomeOctober 4, 2011

By Mark Lowey

David Keith’s company Carbon Engineering is the only Canadian finalist among more than 2,500 entries vying for a $25-million prize in the Virgin Earth Challenge.David Keith’s company Carbon Engineering is the only Canadian finalist among more than 2,500 entries vying for a $25-million prize in the Virgin Earth Challenge. Photo by Ken BendiktsenImagine being able to combat climate change by capturing global-warming emissions from thin air—anywhere on the planet.

That’s exactly what a company, created from University of Calgary-affiliated scientist David Keith’s research, and located on campus, is working on.

Carbon Engineering is the only Canadian finalist among more than 2,500 entries vying for a $25-million prize in the Virgin Earth Challenge, an international competition founded by Sir Richard Branson of the Virgin Group.

Keith is a fellow in the Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy (ISEEE) and an adjunct professor of physics. He joined Harvard University as a professor this Sept. 1, but maintains a strong collaboration with the university.

“David Keith’s company being the only Canadian finalist in this prestigious global competition shows that the energy and environmental research being done by ISEEE and at the University of Calgary offers practical solutions for real-world problems,” says David Layzell, ISEEE’s executive director.

“Carbon Engineering has built the strongest engineering team in the world for developing CO2 capture from air,” Keith says. “Our novel, catalyzed capture and recovery technology should dramatically reduce our cost and energy footprint, enabling us to succeed in niche markets under current economic conditions. We are thrilled that Virgin will work with Carbon Engineering to commercialize CO2 capture from air.”

Carbon Engineering is operating a prototype air capture machine on campus near the physical plant.

The Virgin Earth Challenge offers a $25-million prize for establishing a safe technology and commercial business to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from thin air, as opposed to capturing the gas from an industrial source such as a coal-fired power plant or oilsands operation.

‘Air capture’ is one of very few technologies that can reduce CO2 emissions from the distributed and mobile sources, such as vehicles and airplanes, which emit more than half of the greenhouse gases on Earth. Keith is a keynote speaker for ISEEE’s Conference on the Assessment of Future Energy Systems or CAFES on Nov. 3 and 4. International experts on energy systems, top scientists from the university, industry leaders and policy makers will discuss the opportunities, challenges and solutions for North America in the next energy system transformation.