Sophia Hamblin Wang relishes a challenge, whether it be a Rubik’s cube — her personal best competition time for a 3×3 solve is 34.21 seconds — or tackling climate change.
As Chief Operating Officer at MCi Carbon, Hamblin Wang and her team are working on transforming carbon emissions into building materials and other valuable products. They are thus empowering industries globally to decarbonise while enabling low-carbon embodied materials for a truly circular economy — all without the need for a price on carbon.
“MCi specialises in creating low-emissions powders and outputs that combine CO2 emissions from industry or from direct air capture, combining those emissions with industrial wastes or low-grade minerals to create outputs such as magnesium carbonate, calcium carbonate and silica,” says Hamblin Wang.
For the past nine years, MCi has been processing these outputs into cement and plasterboard drywall products which are large, target markets for low-carbon-embodied materials.
“However, the magnesium carbonate and calcium carbonate products in particular have a very good, high-quality, low-emissions profile,” Hamblin Wang says.
In 2013, MCi secured $9.12 million to design a pilot plant that would serve as a global reference point for the large-scale capture and storage of carbon dioxide via mineral carbonation.
Recently, the company received $14.6 million from the Australian Government to build a demonstration plant on Newcastle’s Kooragang Island.
Currently, MCi’s pilot plant processes a variety of feed stocks, including industrial waste like steel slag, incinerator bottom ash from cement kiln dust and mine tailings.
“We handle anything that contains a magnesium or a calcium component because they bind to the CO2 to create the carbonate,” says Hamblin Wang.
A variety of CO2 removal solutions
She acknowledges that there are numerous carbon dioxide removal solutions being developed and that each of these technologies will be applicable in different scenarios and should be implemented at the most suitable place.
MCi’s technology is suited to decarbonising sectors that have the potential to abate but may not be able to achieve emissions reductions goals in the immediate term.
The process works best if it is near the carbon dioxide source and located close to a local market that can buy the products.
According to Hamblin Wang, the process needs approximately three to four tonnes of mineral feed stock or industrial waste to lock away one tonne of carbon dioxide. MCi’s net revenue would fall somewhere between breaking even and making $350 per tonne of carbon dioxide, with a variety of different outputs.
“Obviously, it’s highly context specific, which is why we don’t have just one number there,” says Hamblin Wang.
The solution to dealing with emissions reduction lies at the intersection of technology, policy and market forces, and the government has a critical role to play.
“I feel very passionate about this because the government’s role is to set a path for technologies to grow and scale,” says Hamblin Wang.
Last year, the Australian Government developed a CCS Emissions Reduction Fund methodology for the validation and granting of carbon credits for CCS. It is currently halfway through the development of a carbon capture and utilisation and storage methodology, which, in the future, will grant credits to technologies in the circular carbon economy.
“However, the process is unclear right now,” says Hamblin Wang. “We need certainty around the policy and validation of the development of these methods because Australia granting carbon credits to carbon capture and utilisation really sets us apart from our global competitors, particularly around the future tradeability of the carbon credits in global markets.”
Hamblin Wang also points to the CSIRO’s CO2 Utilisation Roadmap released last year.
“We could be locking away 19 million tonnes of CO2 within Australia per annum if we accelerate at the opportunity,” she says. “And we think that number is a low estimate, but it’s still really good to have it out there.”
See Hamblin Wang explore this topic in more detail at Engineers Australia’s Climate Smart Engineering Conference, on November 22-23. Find out how you can get involved here.