Demo plant, courtesy Svante

Using nanomaterials for carbon capture breakthrough

Vancouver-based Svante is a Canadian clean-tech startup with a bold approach for eliminating industrial greenhouse gas emissions before they hit the smokestack.

For as long as he can remember, Brett Henkel has been interested in finding answers to industrial emissions. As a kid, growing up in Edmonton, he frequently spent time on the family’s farm within sight of smokestacks belonging to a coal-fired generation plant west of the city.

“Since I was young, I’ve been looking at smokestacks thinking that something has to be done about the greenhouse gases being released,” says Henkel, a mechanical engineer who’s co-founder and a senior executive at Svante, a Vancouver-based clean tech company.

It’s a thought that motivates Henkel as he promotes Svante’s breakthrough carbon dioxide (CO2) capture technology with industry in Canada and elsewhere.

“It’s a worldwide challenge to get CO2 out of smokestacks. We believe we have a carbon capture technology that can do it better than other technologies that exist,” says Henkel, vice president of strategic accounts and government affairs at Svante.

Svante co-founder Brett Henkel embraces the challenge of removing CO2 from smokestacks to reduce global GHG emissions. Photo courtesy Svante.

Henkel and the team at Svante have been partnering with Husky Energy, now a wholly owned subsidiary of Cenovus Energy, on an innovative carbon capture pilot plant near Lloydminster, Saskatchewan.  The project, which was commissioned in 2019, captures up to 10,000 tonnes a year of CO2 from boilers at the Pikes Peak South thermal plant.

Flue gas typically vented through a smokestack is now diverted through Svante’s system. The system combines nanomaterials (solid adsorbents) with a very high storage capacity for CO2 with a rotating mechanical contactor or filter. Active material on the filter grabs onto CO2 in the flue gas. When the filter gets full, low-pressure steam is tapped to heat up the filter, releasing CO2 in a concentrated form that can then be used for underground storage or industrial use. The CO2 never makes it to the atmosphere, meaning the release of climate change causing gases is avoided.

In the case of Pikes Peak, the captured CO2 is to be stored underground.

The idea for the technology, Henkel explains, goes back to Svante’s beginnings more than a decade ago.

In 2007, Henkel and three others founded the company (originally as Inventys Thermal Technologies). Sharing a background in the natural gas industry and looking for a new challenge, they turned their expertise to look for innovative ways to make CO2 capture more viable. After a chance meeting at a conference with a Scottish manufacturer specializing in large rotating industrial heat exchangers, their idea for a new innovation started to take shape.

Scale diagram showing carbon capture technology. Courtesy Svante.

“We looked at their technology. And we thought if we could add a new adsorbent filter structure, we could capture flue gases on one side and release CO2 on the other, essentially turning carbon capture into a continuous process,” Henkel remembers.

To advance their concept, they collaborated with researchers, including at the University of Calgary, to engineer new adsorbents using tiny nanoparticles. They also developed innovative processes and hardware to complete the system. Then, to prove their technology in the field, in 2011 Svante approached Husky about partnering on a unique pilot project at Pikes Peak.

“Husky has significant heavy oil production in the Lloydminster region. They were looking to capture CO2 from their thermal operations and store it underground through EOR. It was a win-win opportunity,” Henkel says.

As a first step, in 2017 Svante installed a half-tonne-a-day carbon capture unit. Learning from the test results, the operation was scaled up in mid-2019 to the current 30-tonne-a-day plant. Since then, it’s been achieving design performance.

Henkel estimates Svante’s technology could eventually cut the cost of carbon capture down to the $30-$50 per tonne range, around half the costs of other current traditional approaches.
“That’s our long-term goal and what we believe the market needs to enable widespread CO2 capture,” Henkel says.

With this success, Svante is growing. Its workforce is up to 80. Its team of engineers, scientists, materials specialists and production technicians continue to enhance the technology, whether in Svante’s analytical lab, testing facilities or manufacturing centre.  And its unique system is attracting increasing attention from major investors and corporations across North America and Europe.

In February, Svante successfully closed US$75 million in equity financing, the largest private investment into point source carbon capture to date. The financing was raised from a number of strategic investors including Chart Industries, Carbon Direct and Export Development Canada.

The company is also finishing design work on a 25-tonne-a-day demonstration carbon capture plant at Chevron USA near Bakersfield, California. It’s working with LafargeHolcim to make Lafarge’s cement plant in Richmond, B.C. the most carbon efficient cement plant in Canada. Flue gas from the plant’s manufacturing facility is now captured through Svante’s equipment, reducing the amount of gases released into the atmosphere. And other Svante projects are in various stages of development elsewhere.

“This technology, which reduces cost and is an environmentally friendly process, will give companies another important tool in the toolbox to reduce emissions,” says Henkel.

In this article, Context speaks with:
  • Brett Henkel Co-founder and Senior Executive, Svante