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

The modern world relies on a vast network to extract, process, transport and ultimately consume hydrocarbons such as crude oil and natural gas. But these resources come at a price: They are limited, difficult to extract, and release carbon dioxide from the ground into the air.

Instead of reducing humanity’s dependence on hydrocarbons—which is either impossible or undesirable, or both, depending on who you ask— terrain industryThe solution is to use electricity and air to produce this resource through a system called Terraformer. Today, the startup announced that it has commissioned a Terraformer demonstrator and produced synthetic natural gas for the first time.

Terraformer is about the size of two shipping containers and consists of three subsystems: an electrolyser that converts solar energy into hydrogen; a direct air capture system that captures carbon dioxide; and a chemical reactor that absorbs these inputs to produce pipeline-grade synthetic natural gas. The entire machine is optimized for a one-megawatt solar array.

As CEO Casey Handmer admits, what the company does isn’t “super original.” For example, electrolysis and Sabatier chemical reactors are well-known processes. But the company has been able to innovate on the process, including building its proprietary direct air capture system and adapting all systems to a variable energy source — solar power. So while the origins of any particular subsystem date back to the nineteenth or twentieth century, the entire process is entirely new.

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The result is staggering cost reductions: Terraform says its system converts clean electricity into hydrogen for less than $2.50 per kilogram (Handmer estimates that green hydrogen currently costs $5-$11 per kilogram). The direct air capture system also filters carbon dioxide at a cost of less than $250 per ton, which the company said in a statement is a world record.

The startup said it is already making improvements to further reduce prices to ensure its synthetic natural gas costs are comparable to LNG from conventional sources. Much of this relies on the construction of vast (lots of) cheap solar power, and the necessary production of thousands of Terraformers per year.

Indeed, while Handmer was an extremely ambitious thinker, it would be a mistake to think that his mind was stuck in the clouds. He was keenly aware that without a strong business case to back it up, Terraform’s plans would fail.

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“We’ve been pushing the idea that a lot of the cool technologies that are solving the climate problem fundamentally don’t belong in the realm of capitalism because they don’t make money,” he said. “They actually consume more money than they make. That makes scaling them really difficult. But if you can find some way to make more money than you use, then you’re entering the tentpole of capitalism. . It’s just the system where money naturally flows. That’s the key thing to do.”

Burbank, Calif.-based Terraform has reached an agreement to sell a small amount of natural gas it produces to two unnamed utilities, but even though initial production will be low, “this is a very critical step,” Handmer said. explain. “This shows that the gas we produce meets their standards.”

The company is in discussions about prototyping or selling the standalone electrolyser as a separate product and making liquid fuels other than methane. Terraform is also taking pre-orders for the first production batch of Terraformers, with the ultimate goal of scaling up the factory to support transforming the world’s energy systems.

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