In San Antonio last week, the start-up firm Skyonic opened what it claims to be an industrial first: a commercial-scale facility that captures carbon dioxide emissions and converts them into salable chemicals.
Built at a cost of $125 million, the facility will consume up to 75,000 metric tons per year of CO2 generated as a by-product at an adjacent cement plant. The company expects to log $48 million in sales and $28 million in earnings annually by marketing the resulting sodium bicarbonate and hydrochloric acid.
The chemicals are made in a process patented by Skyonic founder Joe Jones. The firm uses conventional electrolysis to turn sodium chloride into sodium hydroxide, chlorine, and hydrogen. It then reacts sodium hydroxide with CO2 to form sodium bicarbonate. The chlorine and hydrogen that remain are converted into hydrochloric acid.
In a report generated for the Department of Energy, which put $28 million into the project, Skyonic acknowledges that the energy-intensive electrolysis process does subtract from the plant’s CO2 reduction benefit. But the firm still calculates a net CO2 savings, especially when the chemical sales are considered.
John Thompson, director of the fossil transition program at the Clean Air Task Force, a nonprofit that has been following Skyonic’s progress, agrees that the project should turn a profit. “That’s a good thing,” he says.
Thompson points out that the bicarbonate and HCl markets aren’t big enough to support multiple plants of this type, but he notes that Skyonic plans to apply its technology to the production of limestone and other raw materials for the huge concrete industry.