Clean energy journalism for a cooler tomorrow

More NYC high-rises to be outfitted with novel carbon-capture system

Startup CarbonQuest had a successful pilot project in a New York City apartment building and now has a contract to roll out its technology at more buildings.
By Julian Spector

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A white man in a dark sports coat and safety glasses stands in front of a large metal tank that says liquid carbon dioxide
CarbonQuest CEO Shane Johnson next to a tank of liquid carbon dioxide (Julian Spector)

CarbonQuest, the startup that’s pioneering carbon-capture technology for high-rise buildings, is expanding deployments after a successful pilot test.

The company installed its first commercial unit roughly a year ago at 1930 Broadway, a 30-story New York City apartment building near Lincoln Center, as Canary Media reported last month. The building owner, privately held real-estate firm Glenwood Management, liked what it got, so it ordered five more systems for other rental properties in the city, the two companies announced last week. All five carbon-capture systems are slated for installation within the first three months of 2023.

The deal marks the first multibuilding deployment of a new technology that could prove crucial for eliminating carbon emissions from buildings. Single-family homes can clean up by swapping out fossil-fueled furnaces for highly efficient electric heat pumps. But heat-pump technology is still in commercial infancy for high-rise buildings that operate complex heating and cooling systems across their many stories — and have to keep dozens of tenants warm during harsh winters.

With the success of our first CarbonQuest system at 1930 Broadway, we are excited to roll out the technology to more of our portfolio, leveraging carbon capture alongside other technologies to reduce our emissions and gain compliance with local regulations,” Glenwood SVP Josh London said in a statement.

The regulation in question is New York City’s Local Law 97, which will penalize owners of large buildings for emissions above a certain threshold starting in 2024 and ratcheting up in 2030. If Glenwood’s portfolio of a few dozen New York apartment buildings kept operating as it does currently, the company would likely owe $7 million in penalties for the years 2024 through 2029, and $15 million for 2030 through 2034. Glenwood leadership thinks the company can use CarbonQuest systems to eliminate enough of its carbon emissions to avoid penalties under the law.

CarbonQuest’s technology doesn’t alter existing building HVAC systems, like the two massive gas boilers that generate heat at 1930 Broadway. Instead, CarbonQuest taps into the hot exhaust flue, runs the fumes through a series of steps to isolate the carbon dioxide, and then stores it in pressurized liquid form. Tank trucks pick up the CO2 via a nozzle on the side of the apartment building for delivery to companies that can use and sequester it.

So far, Glenwood Management has shipped its carbon to the similarly named but unrelated Glenwood Mason Supply, which injects it into concrete blocks. This renders the greenhouse gas inert and produces stronger blocks. Glenwood Management will continue selling to the concrete maker as it ramps up its carbon-capture operations.

Building carbon capture is so new that not all building owners are aware that it even exists,” said Brian Asparro, chief operating officer at CarbonQuest, in an email Monday. But at this point, it is not just a proven technology, but — for building owners looking to decarbonize quickly — it is the most effective way of reducing emissions in a short timeframe…and without disruption to the occupants.”

The business case for investing in building-level carbon capture has three main drivers: It helps fulfill corporate climate commitments in a sector with few other options; it reduces penalties under New York City’s aggressive climate rules; and it generates revenue from the sale of commodity carbon dioxide.

Few other cities have enacted as forceful a decarbonization policy for existing buildings as New York did with Local Law 97. But even if CarbonQuest’s market were limited to the five boroughs, it would have plenty of large buildings to pitch to. And for now, at least, CarbonQuest hasn’t run into any direct competitors.

In just a year’s time, CarbonQuest has made more progress in getting its technology working, in both the practical and commercial senses, than the much better-funded and longer-running attempts to bolt carbon capture onto large-scale power plants.

Delivering and installing five systems in three months requires a quick ramp-up in activity for the company, which only launched in June 2019. CarbonQuest moved to a larger manufacturing facility to accommodate that effort, Asparro noted.

It’s exciting to have the opportunity to increase the impact of our technology so quickly,” he said. After all, a ton of emissions reduced today is worth more than a ton reduced tomorrow.”

Now the company just needs to show it can close deals with other customers so it can keep growing its impact — and its revenue.

Julian Spector is a senior reporter at Canary Media. He reports on batteries, long-duration energy storage, low-carbon hydrogen and clean energy breakthroughs around the world.