Best of the West: Advancements in carbon capture technology; historic funding for wildlife crossings; Recycling robots; Extracting rare earth minerals from coal; A new subspecies of trout identified

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting April 3, 2023. (Photos courtesy of Adobe Stock, Hart Van Denburg, and Steve MacMillian)

This week Colorado Governor Jared Polis was joined by U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi and White House Officials for the opening of the largest direct air carbon capture plant in the country, located just outside of Denver.

Operated by Global Thermostat, the plant filters carbon dioxide from ambient air and releases purified air back into the atmosphere. The carbon that's captured through the process is then sold to companies that use it in the development of fuel, fertilizer, carbon-negative building materials, or carbonated beverages. The CO2 not used to produce other products is sequestered underground. Best of all, the technology is small enough to fit in a warehouse, making it easily replicable all over the world. 

Futhermore, while other direct air capture projects charge between $600 and $1,000 to remove a ton of carbon, Global Thermostat is confident the company can reach the $100-per-ton goal, making the technology finacially viable for companies looking to reduce emissions. 

"When the story of humanity's victory over the climate crisis is written, today will be a defining moment," Pelosi said. "What a thrill it is to be here to witness this great transformation." 

With ambitious plans for states, public utilities, and industry to reduce emissions, advancements in carbon capture technology have attracted a lot of attention (and funding) from the federal government and major corporations like Microsoft in recent weeks.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the other innovative carbon capture projects underway in the West.  

Block-Lite, a family-owned masonry business in Arizona, recently announced plans to produce carbon-free concrete through a partnership with CarbonBuilt, a Carbon XPRIZE-winning technology that reduces concrete’s embodied carbon by 70% to over 100%, and Aircapture, which developed a similar kind of direct air capture technology to the Global Thermostat facility in Colorado.

The three partners received a $150,000 grant from the 4 Corners Carbon Coalition, a network of local governments in Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico, to design the first-of-its-kind concrete manufacturing facility that will reduce overall emissions from concrete-making by over 70%.

Oregon State University and Sandia National Laboratory also received a three-year, $540,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to explore capturing carbon dioxide from industrial emissions and sequestering it in a mineralized form in 3D-printed building materials.

German industrial gas giant Linde signed a long-term carbon dioxide offtake agreement with ExxonMobil to store Linde’s carbon dioxide emissions from its new blue hydrogen production complex in Beaumont, Texas. ExxonMobil plans to store up to 2.2 million tons of carbon dioxide per year from the $1.8 billion facility.

Charm Industrial in California transforms leftovers from the corn harvest that would normally release carbon into the atmosphere into a gas, a char, and a viscous black goo called bio-oil. The gas is then burned to heat the process, the char is returned to the field as a soil additive, and the bio-oil is pumped underground as a permanent carbon-removal technology.

To ensure projects like these become more common, a memorandum of understanding was announced among seven Texas and New Mexico colleges and universities and three national laboratories to create the Permian Energy Development Lab that will address a broad scope of concerns including the capture of carbon and its beneficial re-use and the management of methane and emissions. Spokesman Brett Holmes said the laboratory and field research will start in November.

Wildlife crossings: U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was in New Mexico this week to roll out details of what federal officials are billing as the first-of-its-kind pilot program to prevent wildlife-vehicle collisions and improve connections between habitats. As part of the program, Native American tribes, as well as state and local governments, will be able to tap into $350 million in infrastructure funds to build wildlife corridors along busy roads and add warning signs for drivers – the largest single sum ever allocated to address vehicle-wildlife collisions.

“What we’re seeing is wildlife moving into new areas,” U.S. Congresswoman Melanie Stansbury, said, “and so projects like this will help wildlife reconnect on the land to historic spaces and the spaces that will sustain them ecologically.”

Recycling robots: A new generation of trash-sorting robots with articulated arms and brainier vision systems is beginning to work alongside humans at recycling centers. AMP Robotics in Colorado is designing robots that can sort trash faster and more safely than humans, as well as artificial intelligence that gathers valuable data about what's been thrown out, which can be used to steer manufacturers toward more recycling-friendly product designs. "The robots improve the purity of the materials — they're just squeezing more value out of the stream," says Matanya Horowitz, founder of AMP Robotics.

Rare earth minerals: The University of North Dakota announced this week that it received nearly $8 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to study the extraction of rare earth elements from lignite coal waste.

“Today’s funding will support a first-in-the-nation facility that will convert legacy fossil fuel waste into a domestic source of critical minerals needed to strengthen our clean energy supply chains,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm stated.

New trout: The University of California, Davis recently identified a new subspecies of rainbow trout. Dubbed the McCloud River red band trout, or O. mykiss calculate, it is the first newly identified subspecies of Pacific trout since 2008 and the youngest rainbow trout subspecies by more than 100 years. It’s also the only known native fish found in the Upper McCloud Basin above a series of waterfalls that restricts other fish from entering the area.

"It's persisted so long in isolation," said lead author Matthew Campbell, a research affiliate with the Department of Animal Science's Genomic Variation Laboratory. "They've survived in glacial refugia during the Pleistocene era and have been above those waterfalls for at least 10,000 years."

sign up for our newsletters