The sky’s the limit for this Direct Air Capture start-up

If there is one branch in green tech that has gathered momentum over the last few years, it’s DAC (Direct Air Capture). It makes sense, as there is simply too much CO2 in the atmosphere for the earth to stay cool. To learn more about the essentials of DAC and which factors weigh in to make a noticeable contribution against climate change, our //next columnist Markus Sekulla talked to NEG8 Carbon’s Chief Commercial Officer, Dr. Adrian Costigan. The start-up from Ireland takes part in the Carbon Removal ClimAccelerator programme of EIT Climate-KIC that is supported by Munich Re and ERGO.

Hello Adrian, please introduce yourself: What is NEG8 Carbon? And who is Adrian Costigan?

We are a direct air capture company which originated from research at Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin. Last year, we marked a significant milestone by developing and building a 1.2-tonne prototype system capable of capturing 1.2 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere annually. Currently, we’re in the process of designing a more ambitious 300-tonne per annum (tpa) system, set for deployment in the firster quarter of 2025. This system is designed to intake large quantities of air, extract the carbon dioxide, and then release the purified air.

Our ultimate goal is to mitigate the effects of climate change. We have an ambitious roadmap. We aim to remove 5.5 million tonnes of CO2 annually by 2035, focusing on creating a legacy for our planet.

We’re all based in Ireland, and we have our offices and R&D facility in a city called Watford in the southeast of Ireland. We’re eleven employees now. Our plan for this year is to grow to about 23. We’ve got rapid expansion plans for the following years.

My background is the energy sector where I worked in several international locations including the Middle East. I’m now focusing on the climate sector, eager to see how I can contribute with my skills. My experience lies in business and managing large-scale project executions, and I aim to use this to drive NEG8 towards success.

Can you describe to us what NEG8 Carbon does?

Our system is essentially a large unit with a fan at one end and special filters on the other. It pulls in air, which contains a tiny amount of CO2 – only about 0.04 %. Despite this low amount, our technology can capture that CO2. The air passes over a material that acts like a sponge, grabbing the CO2. We then use heat and a vacuum to separate the CO2 from the air. Finally, the captured CO2 is safely stored away in underground rock formations. This process helps us reduce the harmful effects of climate change by removing CO2 directly from the atmosphere.

There are a lot of direct air capture companies that I’m aware of, like the most famous one probably being Climeworks with the Orca plant in Iceland. What makes NEG8 Carbon stand out from its competition?

There are a lot of companies entering the space at different development stages. You have maybe three or four companies that are out front by a couple of years. Then, you have the emerging companies, of which Neg8 is one. Probably eight to ten emerging companies globally will have technology at the scale of 300 to 1000 tonnes per year, on the ground in the next two years. What differentiates us is

  1. Mass production: our focus on mass production of our system. We’ve designed in modularity and mass production so that we can scale up our system rapidly. We’re building 300 to 400-tonnes per year modular containerized units. Once we’ve proved them, we go into mass production, and we make thousands of these like cars coming out of a factory effectively.
  2. Energy efficiency: within our system, the differentiator is how we contain the absorbent material that reacts with the CO2. We’ve a novel way of doing that uses about 60 % less of that material compared to other companies doing a similar type of technology. It also improved the CO2 uptake which means our operational costs are significantly lower. We’ve taken learnings from other industries such as wind and solar and how R&D drove their efficiencies, and we’re mapping those efficiencies onto our technology forecasts.
  3. Machine Learning and AI: We are integrating an advanced dynamic controls system that will make our system one of the most energy and cost efficient. This is very exciting because it means our system can learn and adapt its performance over time, always finding better ways to work more efficiently.

What’s your most important milestone for 2024?

Our key milestone for 2024 is completing the factory acceptance tests (FATs) for our 300 tonne-per-annum system in September. We’re aiming for deployment with a new partner, Deep Sky, a Canadian company, towards the end of the year or early 2025.

Deep Sky is selecting leading global companies in our industry and bringing them to Canada. This gives each company an equal opportunity to showcase their technology on an international stage.

Last but not least: The glass half empty or half full question. Can we still solve the Climate Crisis or is it already too late?

We are not in despair mode. In fact, over the last eight months, I’ve personally witnessed a shift in momentum. It feels like we’ve overcome a major hurdle and are now picking up speed. The number of people entering this space and the global brainpower being dedicated to it is truly inspiring.

Government support is also building apace. For example, the European Union recently unveiled updated plans and targets for carbon capture, which is fantastic. Earlier last year, the US made a significant commitment to carbon capture by investing around $1.2 or $1.3 billion in R&D, pilot projects, and hubs. I’m hopeful Europe will follow suit.

There’s also substantial investment flowing into this sector through European channels like the EIC funding as well I believe we’re on the cusp of seeing an exponential increase in advancements, especially in capturing emissions directly from industrial sources. Once we’ve established this, our next challenge will be to address the legacy emissions of the past 100 years, and that’s where direct air capture (DAC) comes into play.

Thank you for your time, Adrian! I hope your mission will succeed!

Interview: Markus Sekulla

The original version of this article was published here.