A company in southern India has made an important breakthrough in towards successful carbon capture technology. The plant in the port town of Tuticorin is using CO2 captured from its own coal-fueled boiler to make baking soda. Notable as well is the fact that the project has been running successfully without government subsidies. For decades, carbon capture technology has faced its most serious obstacles in high costs and the need for considerable government support.

The company behind the Tuticorin project has said their process will capture 60,000 tons of C02 annually. They also said their process has drawn interest from throughout the world.

Most discussion of carbon capture has long focused on carbon capture and storage (CCS), in which C02 is stored in underground rocks. The process is expensive and provides no added economic incentive. The Tuticorin project, however, is one of the first successful examples of industrial scale carbon capture and utilization (CCU). The technology was invented by two chemists at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur.

In the past, it has been prohibitively expensive, without the help of subsidies, to strip C02 from the low concentrations in which it appears in flue gas. The Tuticorin project uses a new C02-stripping chemical to get around this problem. While only slightly more efficient than the reigning CCS chemical amine, investors said that it requires less energy, smaller equipment, and is less corrosive. These properties reduce the cost to a considerably lower level than conventional carbon capture.

The firm, Tuticorin Alkali Chemicals is now using the C02 to produce baking soda, with a range of uses in sweeteners, glass production, paper products, and detergents. The company’s managing director, Ramachandran Gopalan, told the BBC:

“I am a businessman. I never thought about saving the planet. I needed a reliable stream of CO2, and this was the best way of getting it.”

He added that the plant now has virtually no emissions to either air or water.

Investors believe that such carbon capture products could eventually deal with 5 to 10 percent of the world’s coal emissions. The technology failed to find investors in India, but found interest from the UK government who offered grants and a special entrepreneur status for the company, who is now based in London. The company’s CEO, Aniruddha Sharma, said:

“So far the ideas for carbon capture have mostly looked at big projects, and the risk is so high they are very expensive to finance. We want to set up small-scale plants that de-risk the technology by making it a completely normal commercial option.”

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