The Asia-Pacific region is by far the world’s greatest carbon polluter, emitting more greenhouse gas emissions than the rest of the world combined. China alone accounts for two-thirds of the region’s emissions, and 27% of the global total, according to research firm Rhodium Group. With the world’s largest metropolitan areas concentrated in the Indo-Pacific, the region will be at the forefront of the fight against climate change, and central to achieving net-zero goals.
Enter 8 Rivers Capital, a Durham, North Carolina-based clean technology firm on a mission to decarbonize the global economy by 2050. The company recently secured a $100 million investment from South Korean industrial conglomerate SK Group. The Asian giant operates dozens of subsidiaries across various industries, many of which are actively involved in advancing sustainable energy solutions.
In January of 2021, SK’s petrochemical company, SK Chemical, demonstrated its readiness to tackle plastic waste by forging a partnership with circular waste solutions provider Brightmark. Last spring, SK Innovation and its subsidiary SK Energy joined one of Europe’s largest independent research organizations to support carbon capture technology research.
The North American group is betting on SK’s regional presence to make an impact. In March, 8 Rivers and SK Group announced the formation of a joint venture aimed at spearheading zero-emissions initiatives in key Korean and other Asian markets.
“Decarbonizing the global economy is both a multi-trillion-dollar business opportunity and, more importantly, an environmental and social necessity,” 8 Rivers CEO Cam Hosie said in a press release. “I can imagine no better partner than the SK Group to accelerate gigaton-scale deployment of 8 Rivers’ clean, net-zero technologies, helping drive economic and social development globally.”
To expedite net-zero climate goals, 8 Rivers will deploy its vast array of decarbonization technologies including direct air capture, post-combustion/retrofit carbon capture, sour gas sweetening, clean ethylene, and zero-carbon fuels.
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The carbon capture company is best known for developing the famed Allam-Fetvedt Cycle power generation system and a clean hydrogen production process called 8RH2. The latter can generate clean hydrogen with full carbon capture that is cheaper than traditional steam methane reforming methods, the standard hydrogen production technology of today.
The Allam-Fetvedt Cycle, named after its inventor Rodney Allam, is a novel natural gas power plant that can generate emissions-free electricity from carbon-based fuels. The power cycle is the first of its kind and the only cost- and efficiency-competitive alternative to conventional natural gas plants to date. According to Allam, the system can hit 59% efficiency while absorbing all carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. In contrast, combined-cycle gas turbines, the most efficient power plants on the market, peak at about 62% efficiency. However, those plants lack built-in carbon capture capabilities.
The electric cycle works by using high-pressure supercritical CO2 in place of steam as the system’s working fluid. No air emissions are released, the only byproducts are liquid water and pipeline-ready CO2. The waste carbon can either be stored or sold to the agricultural and industrial sectors where it can be re-used for fertilizer production or converted into high-value products like carbon nanotubes and carbon fiber, ideal for automotive and space tech applications. NET Power, the startup behind the technology, operates a 50-megawatt (MW) demonstration facility in La Porte, Texas where several utility-scale, commercial carbon-capture projects are underway. Three plants are currently in development in the U.K., Illinois, and Colorado.
Recently, NET Power’s La Porte test facility delivered its first batch of carbon-free power to the state’s electrical grid in November. The project was hailed as a breakthrough for many in the energy industry, including NET Power CEO Ron DeGregorio, who compared it to a “Wright-brothers-first-flight” kind of event.
Having successfully completed the research and development (R&D) phase, NET Power is now on track to export its technology across the Pacific. That’s where the 8 Rivers-SK partnership comes in. Being an investor in NET Power, 8 Rivers will be able to deliver NET’s carbon free natural gas to markets in Asia.
“SK looks forward to accelerating the deployment of 8 Rivers’ technologies across the global energy market by combining SK’s domestic and foreign energy infrastructure, business capabilities, and 8 Rivers’ world-class portfolio of clean technologies and projects,” said President of SK Inc. Materials Young Wook Lee in March. The group aims to cut down on its carbon use by 200 million tons by 2030, he added. The deal with 8 Rivers will be central to achieving its “Zero Carbon Footprint” goals.
With 63% of annual emissions stemming from emerging economies, developing low-cost, highly effective, and readily deployable alternatives to traditional energy sources will determine whether we move closer to net zero, or risk causing unpredictable climate-related events. From carbon-free electricity to clean hydrogen and ammonia, 8 Rivers’ extensive portfolio of innovative carbon capture solutions can help us achieve the aggressive climate targets needed to limit global temperature rise.
Nathalie Voit is a freelance content creator and a graduate of the University of Florida. She is an alumni of The Heritage Foundation’s Young Leaders Program.