6 Canadian innovators whose solutions will help remove CO2 from the atmosphere

6 Canadian innovators whose solutions will help remove CO2 from the atmosphere

The members of the Mission from MaRS: CDR Accelerator cohort are looking for ways to help get us to net negative emissions.

The numbers paint a worrisome picture. This summer has been the hottest since global records began in 1880. Data from NASA shows August alone was 1.2 C warmer than average. Between the wildfires across Canada, heat waves in the U.S., Japan and South America, and torrential rainfall throughout Europe, the climate crisis is having disastrous effects around the world.

Per capita, Canada has one of the highest levels of greenhouse gas emissions globally and is warming twice as fast as other countries. But it’s not all doom and gloom.

Canadian innovators are developing technologies that could remove carbon dioxide from the air and utilize or store it safely. But to really make a dent in climate change, these entrepreneurs need help to scale up their solutions. That’s where Mission from MaRS: CDR Accelerator comes in. It’s a new initiative supporting the adoption of the technology needed to address the climate crisis. The Mission from MaRS team set out to find six of the most-promising carbon dioxide removal innovations the country has to offer and enroll them in its Carbon Dioxide Removal Accelerator.

“The companies we selected are a solid, diverse group from across Canada developing a broad range of high-quality carbon dioxide removal and utilization solutions,” says Andy Lam, senior manager of climate programs at MaRS. “We’re doubling and tripling down our support in this important space.”

That support comes in the form of hands-on mentorship, market insights and connections to capital and customers — vital to scaling a business and commercializing the solutions that will help Canada and other countries meet their climate goals by the end of this decade.

Phil De Luna is one of Canada’s most prominent voices in the carbon removal industry and is the chief carbon scientist and head of engineering at carbon removal company Deep Sky. De Luna was on the selection committee for this cohort, and knows all too well the importance of this initiative.

“If we magically stopped all emissions today, the global temperature would continue to rise because of the CO2 that’s already in our atmosphere,” says De Luna. “We need to go beyond net zero and reach net negative. Carbon removal is the technology we need to make the math work.”

From harnessing rivers and oceans to trap CO2, to extracting carbon out of the air and transforming pollution into construction materials, these climate champions are re-defining how Canada tackles the climate crisis.

Gaia Refinery is pulling carbon out of thin air

The word “refinery” conjures images of billowing smokestacks. But Gaia Refinery is quite the opposite. Based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the company has created a bio-driven electrochemical process to pull carbon dioxide out of the air.

“Our unique process doesn’t need high energy or heat like other solutions in the carbon removal space,” says co-founder and CEO Genny Shaw. After the carbon is captured, it is stored below ground or recycled into things like sustainable aviation fuel or building materials, just to name a few.

Planetary Technologies is making waves

Oceans cover more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, and could be the key to removing CO2 floating around above the waves. Oceans are one of the biggest carbon sponges on the planet — they naturally remove it from the air as it dissolves in their waters. Planetary Technologies wants to speed up that process by adding alkaline minerals to the oceans via wastewater pipes. The company currently has pilot projects underway near Halifax and Cornwall, U.K.

Hyperion turns dirty air into dollars

Ottawa’s Hyperion Global Energy creates carbon recycling systems that are cleaning up heavy industries. Its recycling units are retrofitted into factories and plants. They transform carbon dioxide exhaust into calcium carbonate, a mineral with many uses, including construction materials, pharmaceuticals and toothpaste. Before being named to the Mission from MaRS: CDR Accelerator cohort, Hyperion was supported by the RBC Women in Cleantech Accelerator. It is currently operating a pilot system at the Lafarge cement plant in Bath,, Ont., with capacity to remove and permanently store up to 1,000 tonnes of CO2 a year.

“We’re on a mission to provide concrete solutions for decarbonizing hard-to-abate industries with a profitable, circular carbon use case that’s ready to scale,” says CEO and co-founder Heather Ward.

TerraFixing’s cool idea

TerraFixing is using Canada’s harsh winter climate to its advantage. Many liquid chemical-based CDR solutions seize up once the thermometer drops below zero. TerraFixing has optimized its direct air capture technology to thrive in bone-chilling temperatures, filling a huge gap in the carbon removal equation.

“We use a solid, adsorbent material that interacts with CO2 to capture it,” explains co-founder Vida Gabriel. TerraFixing installs its devices near northern mines to help decarbonize that industry, and has partnered with northern Indigenous communities that are reliant on diesel.

“Canada has the potential to fix the global climate crisis if we want,” says Gabriel. “We have the geology, we have the technology that can thrive in cold climates and our country has the entrepreneurial spirit to change the world.”

Carbon Upcycling is cementing itself as a CDR leader

When it comes to construction, the industry’s carbon footprint is between a rock and a hard place — literally. Concrete and cement production accounts for eight percent of global CO2 emissions, but Calgary-based Carbon Upcycling is building a solution. Its catalytic reactors fuse carbon dioxide with fly ash — the leftover waste material from coal power plants. This is then added to cement, which not only traps the carbon, but also makes the building material stronger and more resilient to the weathering effects of climate change.

CarbonRun is streamlining carbon removal

There’s something fishy about CarbonRun, and that’s a compliment. The Halifax company drew inspiration from the practice of adding powdered limestone to rivers to improve ecosystems for salmon. It wasn’t long before the company figured out increasing river alkalinity also increased CO2 absorption. CarbonRun’s solution absorbs CO2 from the air and the land surrounding a river. Sensors downstream can also monitor just how much carbon dioxide is being absorbed.

Find out more about what it will take to build a sustainable and prosperous planet at Mission from MaRS: CDR Accelerator

The CDR Accelerator is the first project of the broader Mission from MaRS: Carbon Management initiative. Mission from MaRS would not be possible without the support of its founding partners HSBC Canada, the Trottier Family Foundation, RBC Tech for Nature and the Thistledown Foundation. The Carbon Management initiative has also received funding from the Grantham Foundation and the Peter Gilgan Foundation.

Photo illustration: Monica Guan