Skeptical of Calera


I have read several positive reports (including the one in HCN on March 15) about Calera Corporation's presumed process that uses seawater or brine to sequester carbon dioxide, particularly from coal-fired power plants. Calera claims to produce a mixture of calcium and magnesium carbonates (limestone, dolomite, etc.) that can be used as a substitute for Portland cement.

I have a Ph.D. in chemistry (Oregon State University, 1970), worked in chemical research and development for 30 years, and am currently on a technical advisory group for Colorado Springs Utilities.

I have looked extensively on Calera's Web site and there is relatively little quantitative information about seawater usage, energy use in the Mineralization via Aqueous Precipitation (MAP) process, energy pumping costs and what is done with the final wastewater. I am concerned that the performance of the carbon dioxide capture part of the process has been exaggerated.

A coal-fired power plant consumes approximately 10,000 Btu of energy per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced and emits approximately 2.2 lb of carbon dioxide/kwh. Only about one-third of this energy becomes electricity; the rest (6,600 Btu) is waste heat. The waste heat is only enough to vaporize less than a gallon of water or raise the temperature of 100 gallons of water about 10 degrees Fahrenheit (possibly not accomplishing much if it's used to heat seawater or brine in the Calera process).

Also, if all the calcium and magnesium in seawater reacted with carbon dioxide to produce the respective carbonates, it would take approximately 95 gallons of seawater to remove the carbon dioxide for just one kwh; a 500 MW plant would require about 415 billion gallons of seawater/year under this scenario.

Space allotted for this letter limits discussion of other issues such as pumping energy, fate of wastewater, etc. Given the importance of energy and greenhouse gas problems, I suggest that Calera treat the carbon capture part of the process as a "black box," but show all energy and
material flows in and out so the technology can be fairly judged.

Jerry D. Unruh, Ph.D.
Chemical Industry Senior Research Associate (retired)
Manitou Springs, Colorado


Calera CEO responds:

The Calera Mineralization via Aqueous Precipitation (MAP) technique is a robust technology that can be applied to a wide range of applications, including power plants near the coast as well as inland. Coastal plants are often seawater-cooled, with existing infrastructure for seawater pumping that exceeds the Calera process needs. In this case, the pumping requirements are already part of the power plant process and efficiencies. For inland plants, high-salinity brines and wastewaters can be used, which have much higher concentrations (100 to 1,000 times higher calcium than in seawater) with therefore reduced pumping requirements.
Extensive studies have shown that the energy demand of the Calera process is in the range of 15-30 percent of the power plant output for capture of the carbon dioxide and conversion to building material.

The more important consideration is the total carbon life cycle of the Calera process ... including the energy and carbon offset by the avoidance of the building material produced by the conventional cement kilns. Studies by researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara investigated the total lifecycle greenhouse gas of implementation of the Calera process at plants in Australia ... including the energy demand of the Calera MAP processes and the transportation of the Calera product to suitable markets as far away as China. The avoided production of cement by the traditional methods and the net capture by the MAP process results in a huge reduction in greenhouse gas emissions when a total lifecycle analysis including all energy demands and transportation impacts is considered.

Also, fresh-water production is a critical need in many locations around the world. Traditional desalination production of fresh water from saline water involves the use of technologies to remove hardness combined with technologies to remove salinity. These traditional technologies are very energy-intensive. The Calera process involves hardness removal directly by precipitation of the calcium and magnesium from the material via the MAP process. Therefore, the MAP process also reduces the overall energy requirements for desalination of brackish and saline water.

Brett Constantz
Consulting Professor
Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences
Stanford, California