Calgary-based startup turns waste CO2 into nanoparticles that can enhance a range of products including paint, concrete, plastic and pharmaceuticals.
Apporv Sinha wears his enthusiasm on his sleeve. He’s a Calgary-based entrepreneur that sees the threat of carbon dioxide emissions as an opportunity—an opportunity to solve the problem of GHG emissions and climate change through innovation and ingenuity.
Sinha is the founder of Carbon Upcycling Technologies (CUT). Sinha and CUT have developed a process that can take CO2 emissions (for example from a power plant) and harvest the carbon from them, turning them into nanoparticles.
These nanoparticles, it turns out, have some pretty useful properties. They can be added to other materials, making them stronger or more efficient.
CUT’s process begins with what’s called a low-grade carbon feedstock: a piece of graphite, coke or fly ash. The surface area of this material is then prepared in such a way that it absorbs CO2 gases that are passed over it.
Sinha compares it to a block of Swiss cheese: “It’s got all these little holes which are now entrapping CO2.”
Sinha notes that the CO2 thus captured is stable—it won’t release back to the atmosphere. Tests show that the CO2 stays where it is even when the material is heated to two times the boiling point of water.
However, what really excites Sinha is the properties of the material created.
“What’s different about our process is that you can actually use that filler with the CO2 in place as a reinforcing agent for polymers—so plastics—for concrete products, as well as for asphalt and coatings.”
In fact, CUT made their first sales recently of a concrete coating product to a company in Portland, Oregon.
Sinha notes that the order was a relatively small one. “But it was a start and it proves it can be done.”
The next step is potentially much bigger. In April, CUT was selected as one of 10 finalists in the US$20 million NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE competition—beating out teams of innovators from around the world. The finalists are vying for a share of the US$20 million prize purse, as well as the recognition and potential investments that will arise if they can prove their technology works at an industrial scale.
To that end, the Carbon Upcycling team is currently hard at work at the Alberta Carbon Conversion Technology Centre in Calgary. The centre is where five of the ten finalists are working to test and validate their technologies using CO2 emissions from a working natural gas power plant. Final judging for in the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE competition occurs in 2020. (Note: The other five finalists are testing their approaches using carbon emissions from a coal power plant located in Wyoming, United States.)
“It’s an exciting opportunity for us,” says Sinha. “This is enormous for a company of our stature. We’re small and relatively new to the market, but it speaks volumes to what the team has accomplished to get us on an international playing field.”