Last week, we interviewed Paula Carey from Carbon8 Systems. We talked about how she got into the field from CCU starting as a professor and now being an entrepreneur. Furthermore, we also discussed the Carbon8 Systems process, the products that can be made with it and how they came up with a mobile factory. Lastly, we discussed the future of CCU and Carbon8 Systems.
Hi Paula, great to have you here in this interview. Can you introduce yourself?
Yes, thank you for having me. My name is Dr Paula Carey and I’m the one of the founding directors of Carbon8 Systems. I’m a geologist by training but, I did my PhD in a very different area. I mapped structural and metamorphic geology ancient rocks in the Scottish Highlands. Then, I moved into engineering geology, followed by the geology of natural resources. I was a lecturer at the university of Greenwich for 25 years, where we did the initial research on accelerated carbonation. In 2010, I gave up working as a lecturer and became a full-time entrepreneur and running Carbon8 Systems.
What is the origin and the aim of Carbon8 Systems?
We formed the company in 2006 on the basis of the research we had been conducting on carbonation. We saw that there was an opportunity, particularly in the treatment of thermal residues and manufacturing products from them. CO2 became a key ingredient in that. Initially we worked on the cement stabilization and solidification of contaminated soil and realized that if you carbonated cement, you could get a product much more quickly.
The original discovery was by accident. It was my colleague Colin Hills, who had a Eureka moment. He was was on the cement stabilization of wastes and had a residue loaded with heavy metals that wouldn’t harden. It sat on his desk as a slurry, but when exposed to air, it got a white film over the top. So, he thought, what would happen if it was fully exposed to CO2? and it went hard. As a result, we have developed Accelerated Carbonation Technology, which allows us to control the carbonation process.
Our aim is simple, to help heavy industry decarbonize through the permanent capture of CO2 and use it to treat industrial residues.
What is your role and what do you aim to achieve at Carbon8 Systems?
I’m the co-founder and technical director of the company. I’m managing a team of five or six people now. With my team we are doing research and development, while improving the process, the engineering and testing client’s residues. Essentially, we are responsible for quality assurance, technical developments and support the global development of the company. Within R&D we are also working on more efficient capturing of more CO2 and developing new products. Theoretically we could treat over 500 million tons of CO2 a year. If we developed our technology and treated all the residues that were available, some of these residues have other uses. So even if we took 10% of that market, that would be the achievement. My target is to treat a hundred million tons of CO2 in per year.
Can you tell me a bit more about how the technology works?
The technology is called Accelerated Carbonation Technology (ACT). We capture CO2 and use it to treat industrial wastes and manufacture products.
The residues we treat are from heavy industry, including cement bypass dust from cement plants as well as steel slags. These wastes contain calcium and magnesium oxides, hydroxides and silicates, which can react with CO2, if the conditions are controlled. For example, you take calcium oxide, mix it with a little bit of water and CO2, and you end up with calcium carbonate very quickly. It’s a reaction that takes place over matter of minutes. What ACT allow us to do, is control that reaction and use the formation of the carbonate to bind fine grade powders together. This can make a pellet, which is a lightweight aggregate.
Interesting! And what potential products can you manufacture using the technology?
Currently, we are able to manufacture products like aggregate and fertilizer. The lightweight aggregate can principally be used in concrete blocks. So, standard blocks that are used for everything from house construction to light industry. That’s a good application because they make blocks all year round. Ready-mix concrete is also potential, as well as green roofing or pipe bedding. So, a wide range of construction applications.
We’re also developing other products asI mentioned, fertilizer is also a potential product we can manufacture, because some of the residues we’re treating are high in potassium.
How does you product compare to competitor’s products not made with CO2?
We’re competing with other lightweight aggregates that are generally made from expanded clay. The key benefit of our aggregate, is that is manufactured with CO2 and therefore, can reduce the overall carbon footprint of a construction project. It has insulating and hygric properties, while also being water absorbent.
That’s impressive. Can you say something about the type of CO2 you use?
We’ve developed our new system, which makes it possible to capture flue gas directly from the flue stack. That’s done at about 10% CO2 by volume in the flue gas. And we use that directly without any need to purify it. We can capture the CO2 directly from the source and utilize it on-site with our containerized system. This is the system we deployed in France.
The three commercial plants in the UK, use a pure CO2. It’s captured from a fertilizer plant and then liquified and transported in the tanker to the centralized sites.
Can you tell me more about your projects in The Netherlands and France?
In France, we deployed our CO2ntainer at a cement works with the VICAT group and that is treating their cement bypass dust, while making an aggregate that VICAT will use in concrete blocks. This is aligned with their decarbonization targets, while also ensuring the cement bypass dust does not got to landfill.
We also did a demonstration with AVR, which is an energy from waste operator in the Netherlands. We took our demonstration plant to the site for about six weeks. The site is a place called Duiven where they’re already capturing the CO2. So in that case, we were using pure CO2 and treating their air pollution control residues or fly Ash.
Right. You also developed something which is really interesting in terms of mobility and modularity. That’s called the CO2ntainer.
Yes exactly, the CO2ntainer is mobile and modular. It’s modular in that two shipping containers can treat up to 12,000 tons of residue. That matches the amount of residue produced by a single plant with the flue stack and the residues. The modularity means that we can bolt three together to treat larger volumes. And the beauty of it is that it’s mobile and can fit on a truck. It is transportable and easy to implement.
What are the plans for the future?
Our aim stays the same, we will continue to deploy our technology and CO2ntainers to help hard to abate industries decarbonize and treat their industrials residues.
We hope to roll-out the container system further, while still further developing. As I mentioned, R&D is still a big element for us, for example, we’re also looking at smaller plants.
And what would you say are the challenges ahead?
Carbon capture, utilization and storage is still a new and developing market. Although it is widely accepted that heavy industry needs to find ways to decarbonize, in relation to the history of the industry this is very recent. And we are trying to push ahead and be one of the solutions that can make this happen.
We also manufacture products from CO2 and industrial waste – and this is different. There needs to be acceptance of the products in the industry. And that has to be accepted by the regulators. The construction industry can sometimes be a bit reluctant to try new things. So, you have to persuade them that they should try a new product. I think the biggest thing is effectively certification of lifecycle assessment because you have to know how low carbon your product is. But there needs to be a standard and we need to agree a way of doing the lifecycle assessment. Lastly, I think that there’s also a role to play by parties like CO2 Value Europe and CO2 Smart Use, making sure CCU is on the agenda in politics and law making.
Definitely! It was great to have you here Paula, thanks for the interview.
Thanks for the opportunity, it was a pleasure.
We’d like to interview more inspiring organizations working to grow the CCU economy. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested.