There are a number of promising new carbon capture technologies reaching the market that can be applied across heavy-emitting industries to make progress on the journey to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.
One of these companies is Svante, a carbon capture and removal solutions provider based in Vancouver, British Columbia, with projects in key industrial sectors across North America.
We spoke with Matthew Stevenson, Svante’s Chief Revenue Officer and Acting Chief Financial Officer, about the unique adsorption process they’ve developed for removing carbon dioxide from industrial emissions sources or directly from the atmosphere:
Can you explain how Svante’s technology for carbon dioxide capture works, and how it differs from the liquid amine-based capture process that existing CCS plants use?
Liquid amines have been used around the world for well over half a century for acid gas separations, and more recently for carbon dioxide separations – particularly for post-combustion carbon dioxide capture.
Svante’s product is a second-generation technology, building on the momentum in the carbon capture, utilization and storage space and developed from the ground-up beginning about 16 years ago. It is based on a relatively unique way of doing solid adsorption.
We use a proprietary nano-engineered sorbent material that has a very high capacity for carbon dioxide, and we form that into what we call a structured adsorbent filter bed. This filter bed has a very high loading of active material. It can move through the adsorption-desorption regeneration cycle needed to capture pure carbon dioxide in a very rapid fashion. So instead of hours or several minutes for point source capture, we’ve reduced this to less than 60 seconds.
What are the key advantages of Svante’s technology over the current industry standard, liquid amine-based process?
Svante’s technology is a more efficient process with lower capital cost and reduced energy consumption. A very small inventory of adsorbent powder is required, and there’s more compact equipment, among other things.
Beyond that, what's interesting about the technology is that by using what's called a physisorbent – a very benign solid-state material – and designing all the materials, equipment and process from the ground-up, we end up with an intrinsically sustainable technology.
There are also advantages in terms of the absence of secondary emissions. When you're taking carbon dioxide out, you certainly don’t want to be adding anything back in subsequent processes. A solid-state material doesn't add any new emissions to the atmosphere.
The process also enables the use of low-value waste heat. So, if you have a hard-to-abate industrial emission source – like a steel or cement plant or similar facilities – you often have intermittency and very low-grade heat around. We have a unique way of handling the intermittency – many plants don’t run 24/7 – and monetizing that heat. Overall, our ability to use waste heat is a key advantage over existing liquid amine technologies, and what contributes to a material reduction in energy consumption.
In terms of scalability, as a solid-state technology with a standardized design around our filter beds and the machines that capture the carbon dioxide, we enable a lot of modularity and repeatability. This increases the scalability of the technology, not just in terms of the size of capture plants, but the number of plants to meet global demand. It also increases the economics of the installation on larger plants in the field.
Can you share details about Svante’s key projects that are operating at this point?
Svante has been around for 16 years. The first 10 years were spent in the lab figuring out the technology. In 2017 we began demonstration, and since 2021 we've been on the commercialization journey.
Our demonstration efforts culminated with the commissioning of our first industrial scale pilot plant in 2019. It's a 30 tonne-per-day/10,000 tonne-per-year capture plant with Cenovus in Saskatchewan that operates on a natural gas boiler. This plant is still in operation, and it’s given us a lot of great data.
We have a second plant of the same size that was just commissioned this summer with Chevron at their operations in Bakersfield, California. This project was also supported by the U.S. Department of Energy. This latest facility is based on our go-to-market metal organic framework material that is the physisorbent we're using for our industrial point source applications. It's the latest and greatest in terms of our go-to-market solution for hard-to-abate industries.
These two large pilots are critical for demonstrating the technology. We also have several smaller units running as well, including at a Lafarge cement plant in Richmond, British Columbia, that's collecting great data around the types of contaminants and particulates in cement flue gas that can be a challenge for some technologies. We are seeing good durability and resilience from our technology in this environment.
How does Svante’s process compare in terms of having to pre-treat flue gas before it goes into the capture process - which can cause all kinds of issues, as we’ve seen on large projects such as the Boundary Dam Unit 3 CCS facility?
Yes, you do have to take flue gas into consideration, and we are benefiting now from the several decades of work that's been done around the liquid amine technologies, including learnings from projects like Boundary Dam 3. It's certainly about the ability to control those contaminants that can have an impact on the flue gas - whether it’s sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, or fine particulates.
We relied on this knowledge base quite a bit to begin with, then considered how Svante’s technology could enable more resilience and see less cost invested in the pre-treatment systems.
One area where Svante’s technology has an intrinsic advantage is around fine particulates. Larger particles tend to get captured in the pre-treatment equipment - whether it’s a direct contact cooler, a quench tower, or systems upstream of that, like a baghouse or an electrostatic precipitator (ESP). But the fine particulates tend to still get through the system.
In liquid systems, this generally creates the risk of aerosols - where fine particulates go into a solvent and can cause some carryover. There are technologies to address this, but it’s a matter of capital and operational expenditure trade-off. For us, those fine particulates tend to pass right through our system. That's where operating experience like what we’ve gained at the Lafarge unit is so important.
How do you think Svante’s experience and learnings so far will help the building and scale-up of facilities that will be capable of meeting the demand for CCS we’re going to see in the coming years?
I'll separate my comments into two topics: the scale-up of the technology itself; and the scale-up of the business that’s needed to support growth and these larger plants.
On the technology front, as a solid-state technology - and with the way we do our adsorption - we have an intrinsic advantage around process scale-up. Once you have a full-length adsorbent bed and you've fixed the velocity of the gases - the composition of the gases, the conditions of the gases – the adsorption process is going to behave exactly the same at a small, one tonne per-day scale as it will at large scale. It's scale invariant, which is an intrinsic advantage over gas liquid contacting systems that have scale effects that are a bit more complex.
The things that do vary with scale are mechanical - as we get larger machines, you need larger mechanical devices. You also have flow distribution; even with larger gas flows you still need to achieve the same type of uniform gas distribution. There is also a harder sealing challenge, with larger areas to seal in our adsorption machine.
Our approach here is prototyping. We've already built and are running a full-size machine prototype in our facilities in Richmond that allows us to test these things, including gas sealing and mechanical, the operation of the machine, etc. Prototyping helps us de-risk, and several years ahead of when we'll do our first installations. This gives our customers and funding partners confidence.
In terms of the growth of Svante’s organization overall, we've been fortunate to have the resources to do this. We’ve raised about $500 million USD in capital to-date, and a US$318 million Series E closed last December.
To further support the scale-up of the business, earlier this year we decided to move ahead with a full-scale manufacturing facility to build the filter beds. It will be a US$100+ million manufacturing facility. It's currently about halfway through construction and will have the capacity to equip 10 one-million-ton capture plants every year. With the global installed base being about 40 million tons per year, that's four years to replace the global installed base.
We have the resources, the capital, and the people – with a team of over 280 team members now – to undertake this. Having the manufacturing plant in place and producing beds will enable us to demonstrate quality and performance in advance of taking purchase orders for first-of-kind projects.
What will be required to further propel Svante’s progress?
Whether it's first-generation CCS technologies like the liquid amine providers, or second-generation technologies like Svante, carbon capture is no longer a technology problem. It’s now a matter of deployment, and of having the right carbon pricing in place.
Regulatory environments like what we’re seeing now in Canada and the U.S. need to be repeated globally. Whether it’s the innovation tax credit in Canada, the federal carbon price, or the US credit for carbon dioxide sequestration (45Q), these are the policies that are needed. Then we need to see successful projects use them and demonstrate to others that this is possible.
There's no shortage of carbon emissions to go after. When you think about the scale of this market - what it needs to be by mid-century to meet our climate goals – it’s several gigatonnes, perhaps even 10 gigatonnes by 2050 of carbon capture and removal that will be needed.
When you look at the number of facilities that implies, at some point we've got to be building 100 plants a year or more. That's two plants a week. It’s been done before in the world, whether with the ethanol industry in the United States or with power plants in China.
It requires a concerted effort though – with the right incentives in place and a partnership approach. That's why having an ecosystem and working in partnership with industrial leaders that want to make a difference is so critical. To take on that size of challenge you need all the expertise that’s available. Svante cannot do this by ourselves. We're a facilitator and enabler. We have a unique technology and business platform, but ultimately, we must work with others to make it happen.