The Pacific Northwest Could Be Big Tech's New Hot Spot for Carbon Capture

Basalt formation along the South Fork John Day Wild and Scenic River in Oregon

The Pacific Northwest is a postcard-perfect collection of green river valleys, dense forests, arid deserts, and breathtaking coastal cliff faces. But it is also home to a thick flow of basaltic rock throughout Washington, Oregon, and Idaho — which could be instrumental in trapping carbon. 

When carbon interacts with basalt, the chemical reactions allow mineral trapping through the formation of carbonates. The same reaction occurs in nature when carbon dioxide-rich saline water enters a basaltic rock formation. 

The Ankeron Carbon Management Hub was recently awarded $3 million in federal funding to extract carbon emissions from the atmosphere. This will result in the utilization or permanent storage of emissions in the basaltic rock throughout the Pacific Northwest region. 

The Hub is a consortium of leading scientists in clean energy, carbon mineralization, and technology innovations. The millions in funding will go towards carbon dioxide removal solutions like direct air capture (DAC), with an additional focus on the community and economic benefits to the region. 

The carbon removal hub includes top scientists. 

The Ankeron Carbon Management Hub is comprised of three DAC companies: U.S. startups Heirloom and Sustaera, and Norway-based Removr. 

Four innovative carbon technology companies are also attached — Carbfix, Blue Planet, Twelve, and LanzaTech — all of which have various projects underway. These include speeding up mineralization, manufacturing sustainable aviation fuel, and feeding CO2 to fuel-producing bacteria.  

“This project brings together three fields of carbontech — DAC, carbon mineralization and carbon utilization — into one hub,” Curt Graham said on behalf of Flour, an EPC provider for the hub. “We are excited to collaborate with innovative leaders in the CDR [Carbon Dioxide Removal] space while using our experience in Washington State and carbon management to advance sustainable solutions that support climate goals.”

The Ankeron project is just one of many carbon removal projects across the U.S. 

The project is also hoped to advance President Joe Biden’s Justice40 Initiative, which ensures that 40% of the overall benefits of certain federal investments go to marginalized communities that are disproportionately impacted by pollution. 

This summer, the Biden administration awarded $1.2 billion to carbon removal hubs in Texas and Louisiana, in addition to 19 other early-phase projects across the country. 

Amidst the other regions studying carbon technologies, the Pacific Northwest stands out — and not just as a treasure trove of basaltic rock. Its abundance of forests also supplies the clean, renewable energy that’s needed to power the carbon technology needed to capture and store carbon. 

In addition to becoming home base for the Ankeron Carbon Management Hub, the region is also playing host to the Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Association’s PNWH2 hydrogen fuel hub, carbon-friendly Sustainable Northwest mass timber, and the American Aerospace Materials Manufacturing Center’s lightweight aircraft project. 

Carbon removal is vital to reversing climate change.  

Globally, scientists agree that carbon removal is critical to mitigating climate disasters. For radical climate solutions, carbon emissions need to be dramatically reduced in every sector, but also must be removed from the atmosphere. 

In 2022, the United Nations released a 3,000 page report detailing the dire need to reduce and remove carbon emissions. 

“The jury has reached a verdict, and it is damning,” said secretary-general of the UN António Guterres. “We are on a fast track to climate disaster.”

Diána Ürge-Vorsatz — vice chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — expressed the same urgency. 

“Carbon dioxide removal is essential to achieve net zero [greenhouse-gas emissions],” Ürge-Vorsatz said. 

Unfortunately, carbon removal projects are also incredibly expensive. 

“At this early stage, the capital requirements and the costs of those technologies are high,” said Daniel Pike — Ankeron’s project director and the principal of the Carbon Dioxide Removal Initiative. “And on the other side of the ledger, the revenue streams are also very uncertain.”

Big Tech, one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions, is trying to be part of the solution.

The Pacific Northwest region is rich with tech companies that are vying to play a role in carbon removal. 

Microsoft — which is based in Redmond, Washington — and leading Ankeron Hub organization Heirloom recently signed one of the largest permanent carbon dioxide removal dates to date

In the contract, Microsoft promised to purchase up to 315,00 metric tons of CO2 removal over the next decade. The deal is projected to offset the equivalent of 70,000 gasoline-powered cars. 

“Microsoft’s agreement with Heirloom is another important step in helping build the market for high-quality carbon removal and supports our path to become carbon negative by 2030,” said Microsoft Senior Director of Energy and Carbon Brian Marrs said in an Heirloom press release

Microsoft is not alone. Amazon — which has its headquarters in Seattle — also recently struck a deal with 1PointFive to pull 250,000 metric tons of carbon from the air and permanently store it in underground rock formations in south Texas. 

“These investments in direct air capture complement our emissions reductions plans, and we are excited to support the growth and deployment of this technology,” said Kara Hurst, vice president of worldwide sustainability at Amazon. 

This deal comes after Amazon’s Climate Pledge to become carbon neutral by 2040. In the last year, Amazon emitted 71.3 million tons of carbon dioxide. In comparison, Microsoft emitted 13 million tons

All eyes are on direct air capture as a model for climate solutions.

In a RMI press release, Pike said that the decisions that the Ankeron Hub makes in the next decade could have a “massive impact” on how DAC evolves in the future of climate solutions. 

“As we assess the feasibility of this concept, we will hold ourselves accountable to local communities and the scientific community,” Pike said. “We will find ways to build up clean energy systems in the region, not overload them.”

Header image courtesy of Greg Shine/Bureau of Land Management (CC BY 2.0)

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November 1, 2023 1:26 PM
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