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Terraform Industries converts electricity and air into synthetic natural gas for the first time

The modern world depends on a vast network of extraction, processing, transportation and, ultimately, consumption of hydrocarbons such as crude oil and natural gas. But these resources come at a cost: they are limited, difficult to extract, and they extract carbon dioxide from the ground and release it into the air.

Instead of reducing humanity’s dependence on hydrocarbons – which is either impossible or undesirable or both, depending on who you ask – Terraform IndustriesThe solution is to produce this resource, using electricity and air, via a system it calls the Terraformer. Today, the startup announces that it has commissioned a Terraformer demonstrator and is producing synthetic natural gas for the first time.

Roughly the size of two shipping containers, the Terraformer consists of three subsystems: an electrolyzer, which converts solar energy into hydrogen; a direct air capture system that captures CO2; and a chemical reactor that ingests these two inputs to produce pipeline-quality synthetic natural gas. The whole machine is optimized for a one megawatt solar panel.

As CEO Casey Handmer admits, what the company has done isn’t “super original.” Electrolysis and Sabatier chemical reactors are, for example, well-controlled processes. But the company was able to innovate in the process, notably by building its exclusive direct air capture system and adapting the whole thing to work with a variable energy source, solar energy. So while the origin of a particular subsystem may date back to, say, the 19th or 20th century, the process as a whole is entirely new.

Image credits: Terraform Industries

The result is some pretty staggering cost reductions: Terraform claims its system converts clean electricity into hydrogen for less than $2.50 per kilogram of H2 (currently, green hydrogen ranges from $5 to $11 per kilogram, depending on Handmer). The direct air capture system also filters CO2 for less than $250 per ton, which the company said in a statement is a world record.

The startup says improvements are already underway to reduce these prices even further to ensure its synthetic natural gas reaches cost parity with conventionally sourced liquefied natural gas. Much of this depends on producing batches (and many batches) of cheap solar power and the required production of thousands of Terraformers per year.

Indeed, although Handmer is an extraordinarily ambitious thinker, it would be a mistake to think that his head is in the clouds. He is keenly aware that Terraform’s projects will be dead without a solid business case behind the company.

Terraform Industries

Image credits: Terraform Industries (Opens in a new window)

“There’s this idea that we’re moving towards, which is that a lot of these interesting technologies for solving the climate problem are fundamentally not in the realm of capitalism because they don’t make money,” he said. declared. “In fact, they consume more money than they earn. This makes it really, really difficult to scale them. But if you can find a way to make more money than you use, then you’re in the tent of capitalism. It is simply a system that money naturally flows into. This is the essential thing to do.

Terraform, based in Burbank, Calif., has reached agreements to sell the small amounts of natural gas it has produced to two unnamed utilities, but even though the initial volume is small, “this is a very key step” , Handmer said. “This shows that we have produced gas that meets their standards.”

The company has ongoing discussions regarding prototyping or selling standalone electrolyzers as separate products, as well as manufacturing liquid fuels other than methane. Terraform is also taking reservations for the first production Terraformers – with the ultimate goal of expanding factories to support construction that could do nothing less than transform the world’s energy systems.

techcrunch

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