Sustainable Energy

Can fossil fuels ever be 'guilt-free'?

Anmar Frangoul | Special to
Could fossil fuels soon be guilt free?
Could fossil fuels soon be guilt free?

When it comes to the debate about the planet's rising greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuels are right in the middle of the arguments.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, carbon dioxide emissions from, "fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes," contributed roughly 78 percent of the planet's total greenhouse gas emissions increase between 1970 and 2010.

With our hunger for fossil fuels showing no real signs of abating, one potential solution to reducing CO2 emissions is carbon capture and storage, a term used to describe technology and processes that enable what the International Energy Agency (IEA) describes as, "the capture of CO2 from fuel combustion or industrial processes, the transport of CO2 via ships or pipelines, and its storage underground, in depleted oil and gas fields and deep saline formations."

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If carbon dioxide can be captured and stored safely instead of being released into the atmosphere, then we could, in theory, use fossil fuels 'guilt free'. The technology is still new, however, and relatively unproven.

What though, if we could actually use the carbon dioxide instead of burying it? Austin, Texas, based Skyonic think they have found the answer. The company states that its technology is able to, "transform greenhouse gases (GHG) into carbon-negative products."

Xulio Villarino | Cover | Getty Images

Joe Jones is the President and CEO of Skyonic. He told CNBC's Sustainable Energy that the inspiration for the business came from an unlikely source: his sons. "I came across that idea when I was talking with my sons – a cub scout and a boy scout," Jones said.

"They were very interested in being astronauts, and we were watching shows about how hard it was to get the carbon dioxide out of space capsules," he added.

"Ten years later, after three pilot plants and two competitive grants, we're putting up a commercial, for-profit, plant."

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SkyMine is a patented piece of technology that can be put to work at a range of facilities, from refineries and steel mills to power plants and industrial manufacturing plants.

According to Skyonic, SkyMine works by taking out CO2, heavy metals and acid gases – nitrogen oxides, for example – from industrial waste streams. According to Skyonic they capture, "these harmful pollutants from flue gases and transform them into solid, marketable products." These products include bleach, baking soda and hydrochloric acid.

In terms of CO2 emissions, Skyonic say that the first SkyMine facility – at a cement plant in San Antonio, which opened in October last year – will help cut the factory's CO2 emissions by 15 percent, the equivalent of 83,000 tons per year.

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Jones went on to tell CNBC that his business has the potential to work around the world. "Here in Texas, with the existing costs of inputs and outputs, it works out to well over 65 percent gross margin," he said.

"We've also done… extensive economic studies in China, South Africa, Russia, the Middle East and Europe that indicate that those kind of margins or better would be sustained around the world," he added.