In mid-November, Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) announced it will support research to test and further develop an innovative technology that captures carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air while simultaneously collecting water that can then be reused for irrigation. Testing the new carbon capture technology, called Isothermal Water Vapor and CO2 Capture (IWVC), will provide key insight into its efficiency and operating costs, ultimately determining the cost-effectiveness of its deployment at scale.
SoCalGas contributed approximately US$650,000 to the US$3.2 million project, which has also received funding from the US Department of Energy (DOE). The IWVC technology was conceived at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and is being commercialized by Los Angeles-based startup Avnos, Inc. A new economy-wide technical analysis released by SoCalGas in October revealed that carbon management tools, like direct air capture when combined with electrification and clean fuels like hydrogen and renewable natural gas (RNG), deliver the most affordable, resilient, and technologically proven path to full carbon neutrality. “The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] and the International Energy Agency highlight the need for carbon management tools to meet our Paris Agreement commitments,” said Neil Navin, vice president of clean energy innovations at SoCalGas. “By helping jumpstart this technology we aim to help California reach its 100% net-zero goals more affordably, more equitably, and with less risk of power disruptions, customer conversion barriers, and technological limitations.”
“We’re confident that the demonstration testing of this breakthrough technology will prove what our modeling indicates — collecting significant amounts of water while pulling carbon dioxide from the air, resulting in the most flexible and cost-effective solution in the DAC [Direct Air Capture] market,” said Will Kain, CEO of Avnos, Inc. “We believe that at scale this technology has the potential to generate approximately 15 million gallons [56.8 million liters] of water a day while removing 1.8 million tons [1.6 million tonnes] of CO2 from the air each year in a single system — the equivalent of taking more than 390,000 cars off the road for a year.”
IWVC is a hybrid form of DAC technology that simultaneously captures CO2 and water from the air. This advanced technology operates using a two-stage vacuum swing process. First, the device attracts and binds water vapor and carbon dioxide. Then it condenses the water out and compresses the CO2 for transport, storage, or use to make fuel or other products. The demonstration-scale system is designed to capture about 176 lb. (80 kg) of CO2 and about 264 gallons (1000 liters) of water daily.
“The IWVC system employs a unique combination of advanced desiccant and CO2 sorbent materials that spontaneously remove moisture and CO2 when brought into contact with air,” said Dr. Peter McGrail, laboratory fellow at PNNL. “High temperature is normally used to regenerate desiccants, which would be far too energy intensive and costly for DAC. IWVC’s desiccants instead are regenerated without any outside heating, which makes it economical to produce water along with the CO2. A 2020 study published in Nature Climate Change showed that large-scale deployment of conventional DAC technologies could exacerbate issues around water scarcity. Our technology upends those concerns by producing excess water while still doing the main job of capturing CO2 from the atmosphere.” PNNL is currently leading design and development of the IWVC demonstration system components. Once design and development activities are completed, the demonstration system will be fabricated and then tested in Southern California. The project is scheduled to be completed in 2023.
A 2020 study from the Lawrence Livermore National Lab found carbon capture technology will be necessary to meet the state’s carbon neutral goals. SoCalGas’ recent analysis, which evaluates potential pathways for the state to reach 100% carbon neutrality, also identifies the need for carbon management technologies to support a clean fuels network that will help the state reach its climate goals. The recently signed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act allocates US$12.5 billion for the research and development of carbon capture programs, including US$2.1 billion for CO2 transport infrastructure projects, and it supports regionalized carbon capture centers.
Findings From SoCalGas’s Technical Analysis
One of the main drivers behind SoCalGas’s decision to help fund research into the IWVC system was its findings from a recently completed industry report. Officially titled The Role of Clean Fuels and Gas Infrastructure in Achieving California’s Net Zero Climate Goal, SoCalGas’s study found that leveraging existing gas infrastructure to deliver clean fuels and to manage carbon can allow California to achieve its net-zero goals more affordably and with less risk than pursuing other pathways. “Climate change and the imperative to reduce and eliminate GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions are driving a transformation of our nation’s entire energy system,” said SoCalGas President Maryam Brown. “Across the United States, electric and gas utilities are re-envisioning how they deliver the energy Americans need. SoCalGas, having set the goal to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in everything we do by 2045, is leading the effort in California to accelerate a more equitable and affordable energy transition and to help establish Los Angeles as North America’s first clean fuels hub.”
Key Findings from the study include:
- Electrification combined with clean fuels, carbon management, and technologies like fuel cells deliver the most affordable, resilient, and technologically proven path to full carbon neutrality.
- California, by leveraging the gas system to deliver clean fuels and to manage carbon, can reach 100% net zero goals more affordably, more equitably, and with less risk of power disruptions, customer conversion barriers, and technological limitations.
- Rapidly scaling up clean fuels initiatives today is vital to putting a clean fuels network in place in time to help California meet its climate goals. The faster stakeholders can collaboratively act to expand and accelerate clean fuels initiatives, the quicker California can decarbonize.
The technical analysis supporting The Role of Clean Fuels and Gas Infrastructure in Achieving California’s Net Zero Climate Goal builds on existing climate models used in similar studies previously commissioned by the California Air Resources Board and the California Energy Commission. In addition, the modeling work and results of the technical analysis released today were independently verified by scientists at leading research institutions. “Clean fuels, including green hydrogen, have an important role to play as California transforms to a carbon neutral economy over the next 20 years,” said Jack Brouwer, director of the National Fuel Cell Research Center and Advanced Power and Energy Program at the University of California, Irvine. “As this analysis shows, a clean fuels network that carries decarbonized gas provides important features of lower cost, massive and long-duration storage, and resiliency that Californians demand.”
“Solving the carbon neutrality puzzle will take the work of many collaborators and numerous technologies to provide resilient, reliable, and decarbonized energy, economy-wide,” said Lew Fulton, director of the Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways Program at the Institute for Transportation Studies at University of California Davis. “SoCalGas’ in-depth analysis, building on previous studies, shows it can be done, with the development of a clean fuels network.”
“Carbon neutrality goals, whether local, regional, or national, cannot be achieved without accounting for ways to decarbonize hard-to-abate sectors of the economy,” said Erin M. Blanton, senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. “This analysis shows there is a way to achieve these goals, utilizing California’s vast, existing, natural gas infrastructure.”
SoCalGas’ technical analysis demonstrates that a clean fuels network helps support the most cost-effective, resilient, and lowest risk pathway to full carbon neutrality by:
- Supporting electricity decarbonization: As more solar and wind are integrated onto the grid, and as more end uses are electrified, a clean fuels network supports the reliability of the electric grid by providing indispensable, flexible, and dispatchable power at times when renewables are intermittent.
- Providing decarbonized energy for hard-to-abate sectors: clean fuels will be essential to decarbonizing hard-to-abate sectors of the economy like heavy-duty transportation and industrial activities, which currently account for ~20% of California’s GHG emissions.
- Lowering risk through diversification: The analysis shows a diverse set of decarbonization levers reduces the risk of over-dependence on any one technology.
- Delivering a more affordable and equitable transition: The modeling reveals a clean fuels network is worth between US$45 to US$75 billion in savings in transition costs compared to full, economy-wide decarbonization in 2045 with a no fuels network.
SoCalGas Clean Fuel Initiatives
SoCalGas is actively engaged in more than 10 pilot projects related to hydrogen and has partnered with the Green Hydrogen Coalition, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), and other key partners on HyDeal LA, an initiative to achieve at-scale green hydrogen procurement at US$1.50/kg in the Los Angeles Basin by 2030.
SoCalGas is also testing and demonstrating transporting hydrogen using existing infrastructure and is collaborating with California’s other gas utilities and with research institutions to develop a hydrogen blending standard for regulatory review.
SoCalGas is advancing numerous low- and zero-carbon energy technologies similar to this IWVC direct air capture project in support of California’s climate goals and its established goal to achieve net-zero GHG emissions in its operations and delivery of energy by 2045. In March, SoCalGas became the largest North American natural gas distribution utility to set an ambitious net-zero goal that includes Scopes 1, 2 and 3 GHG emissions. The company is working to reduce its direct emissions and those generated by its customers, including the fuel SoCalGas delivers to all 22 million Californians.