Skyonic's plan to commercialize Skymine, a process that scrubs SOX, NO2, mercury, and other heavy metals from industrial plant exhaust and converts leftover CO2 into sodium bicarbonate, was just a glimmer in the company's eye as recently as February. But this week Skyonic announced that it is opening a carbon mineralization demonstration facility at San Antonio-based Capitol Aggregates, one of the biggest cement plants in Texas. The plant comes courtesy of a $3 million DOE grant that also requires Skyonic to produce qualifying samples of its baking soda-like CO2 byproducts, which can be turned into animal feed, glass products, and even a growth catalyst for bioalgae.
"We do a full scrub of acid gases as well as mercury scrubbing. Then we have the CO2 capture piece and we also make byproduct chemicals with lower energy than traditional methods," explains Joe Jones, Skyonic's founder and CEO.
Now that the demonstration plant is up and running, Skyonic is getting to work on a commercial scale facility at the same location. When complete, the facility will directly remove 75,000 metric tons of CO2 from the cement plant's flue gas. Skyonic will also indirectly offset another 200,000 metric tons because the chemicals produced with its sodium bicarbonate can be made using less energy than they would with traditional production processes.
The commercial-scale plant will cost between $75 to $100 million. "But keep in mind that this is a for-profit venture," Jones says. "The sum of the byproducts of the plant are worth more than the sum of input. Salt, water, and electricity are the only inputs. Hydrogen, chlorine, and bicarbonate products are the outputs."
Jones is confident that the Skymine procedure is more practical than carbon capture and storage. While CCS raises questions about groundwater contamination and the potential danger of storing CO2 underground (what happens in an earthquake?), Skymine turns CO2 into a safe product.
Soon enough, Skyonic might have some competition in the carbon capture arena. Sandia National Laboratories is working on a machine that turns CO2 into usable fuel. But that project is still in its infancy, and Skyonic is already up and running. If Skymine works well at commercial scale, we fully expect to see even more competitors pop up.