Reducing building carbon emissions

Cities such as New York are forcing buildings to reduce CO2 emissions, which has allowed some entrepreneurs to develop building decarbonization solutions to reduce emissions in a smart, efficient way. See video.

By Gas Technology April 18, 2022
Courtesy: CarbonQuest

For the past several years, many countries and cities have put forth a concerted effort to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions any way they can. This has come in the form of many initiatives such as better light bulbs, cleaner vehicles, cleaner factories and more. On their own, it might not seem like much, but the effort can result in a cleaner environment for people while creating a more sustainable environment.

Buildings are no stranger to the decarbonization initiative. While they might not produce the same level of toxic chemicals as, say, a factory might, they still emit a great deal of CO2. Cities, in particular, are working to reduce their overall emissions. For many years, cities used tax breaks and incentives to encourage buildings to reduce CO2 emissions.

While that has worked to a certain extent, the results have not been as strong as some cities would like. Now, cities such as New York are getting rid of the carrot and going with the stick. If buildings can’t reduce their CO2 emissions, they will be taxed.

Local Law 97, enacted by New York City, says most buildings over 25,000-sq-ft will be required to meet new energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions limits by 2024, with stricter limits coming into effect in 2030 and 2035. The law’s goal is to reduce emissions 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. Other cities such as Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston and more are following suit.

Reducing carbon footprints

On paper, reducing a building’s CO2 emissions might seem like an easy thing to do, but it’s not quite that simple. More than 70% of buildings in New York City use natural gas, which emits plenty of CO2, according to Shane Johnson, CEO of CarbonQuest. Making the shift isn’t simple and requires a more concentrated effort, which is where CarbonQuest is hoping to make their mark.

CarbonQuest, which was created in 2019 by a group of entrepreneurs at the intersection of energy, decarbonization and buildings. Based in the Pacific Northwest and New York City, the company is focused on providing urban building owners advanced technologies and solutions that enable acceleration of global carbon reduction.

While CarbonQuest itself is new, the team has collectively built several technology firms in the renewable energy, telecommunications and financial technology industries. The new challenge – reducing CO2 emissions in buildings – is a tall order, but Johnson said they’re ready and eager to tackle it head-on by capturing carbon in buildings.

Building carbon capture system

Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS) refers to a range of technologies that capture CO2 emissions and utilize the CO2 in circular carbon economy applications that store the CO2 in high permanence applications so the CO2 doesn’t enter the atmosphere. While not a new concept, CarbonQuest has developed a distributed on-site CCUS they call Building Carbon Capture and StorageTM (BCCSTM).

Johnson outlined the system as a four-step process:

  • The CO2, along with the nitrogen, water vapor and oxygen, are diverted into a system that condenses out and removes the water vapor. Separation and purification. The oxygen and nitrogen are separated from the CO2 and sent up the building’s flue and chimney while the CO2 is sent along to be liquefied.
  • CO2 liquefaction. The CO2 gas is compressed and cooled to convert it to a liquid they call SustainableCO2™.
  • Storage and transfer. The liquid CO2 is stored in a tank system where it can be sold and transferred to a utilization offtanker when the tank is full.

CarbonQuest’s Carbon intelligent software autonomously manages the operations of the system ensuring continuous and safe operations of the system. Their Carbon Management System™ (CMS™) provides their customers and their network operations a real time view into the systems operations and performance. As a part of the process, they manage the entire offtake process, including the sales and tracking of the SustainableCO2™.

Johnson said, “As a starting point, we’ve targeted the concrete manufacturing industry in the mixing and curing process for our SustainableCO2™ offtake partners where they use less cement in the process. By mixing the CO2 with the cement, its permanently sequestered in the concrete products where they are sold as sustainable products back into the construction industry, completing the local circular carbon economy.”

There are many other ways CO2 can be utilized. Johnson mentioned utility companies using captured CO2 for wastewater treatment facilities rather than carbonic acid, which is what the facilities typically use. CO2 is less toxic and cleaner and it comes at a lower cost to the utility.

“We very much believe in carbon to value,” Johnson said. “There is a growing carbon tech market out there and one of the big questions is how we will use all the CO2. If we all believe the problem is as significant as it is, continuing to innovate in a multi-technology approach is how we’re gonna get there.”

Figure 1: CarbonQuest has developed a distributed on-site CCUS they call Building Carbon Capture and StorageTM (BCCSTM) to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Courtesy: CarbonQuest

Figure 1: CarbonQuest has developed a distributed on-site CCUS they call Building Carbon Capture and Storage™ (BCCS™) to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Courtesy: CarbonQuest

From the customer’s viewpoint, Johnson said it was important the project’s installation have a small footprint, which serves as a nice parallel to the company’s goal.

“It’s hard to reduce on-site emissions,” Johnson said. “For us, we’re relying on the overall infrastructure. We take pride in not being very disruptive to their operations. We can locate systems in garages, on rooftops and setbacks or wherever space is available in or adjacent of the building.”

Johnson described a 377,000-sq-ft multi-family building in Manhattan and how their Building Carbon Capture System takes up only 600 sq ft, which is a drop in the bucket by comparison. The goal for the multi-family project, Johnson said, is to reduce emissions by 25% so the owners wouldn’t be hit by the carbon taxes and provide a 5-year return on investment (ROI).

“We’re trying to make a scalable platform that links into the building,” Johnson said. Not only is minimizing the system size critical to being able to apply the technology, but modularity and flexibility of the design is also crucial as it allows us to place our standardized modules very flexibly within available building space.  We offer a range of product sizes that allows us to cover the broad set of building sizes and meet a wide range of carbon reduction goals.”

The system itself, in addition to being small, is also designed to be smart. “We couple our Building Carbon Capture System hardware with intelligent software to continuously optimize the system operations,” Johnson said. “The carbon capture control system makes all the hardware pieces interact as efficiently and effectively as possible to get the best results. Each building receives a Carbon Gateway that interfaces between the site system and our cloud Carbon Management System™ which measures and reports each building and the customer’s combined building portfolio carbon performance over the life of the system operations.

The multi-family unit in Manhattan is one of more than 50,000 buildings in New York City that are subject to LL97 and need to reduce their CO2 emissions. More than 80% are multi-family with commercial, hotels and manufacturing making up the rest of the pie.

For many of these facilities, Johnson said it’s about doing something now. “Why wait for a 100% green grid when we can dramatically reduce emissions now? 95% of the buildings that exist today will be standing 50 years from now. When these buildings and the surrounding utility infrastructure were built from ground up to use natural gas, it’s very challenging and costly to convert them to electricity. These buildings need an alternative to decarbonize now. And we’re seeing a significant interest our approach.”

Figure 2: CarbonQuest installed their CCUS in a 377,000-sq-ft multi-family unit in Manhattan with a goal to reduce CO2 emissions by 25% and provide a 5-year return on investment (ROI). Courtesy: CarbonQuest

Figure 2: CarbonQuest installed their CCUS in a 377,000-sq-ft multi-family unit in Manhattan with a goal to reduce CO2 emissions by 25% and provide a 5-year return on investment (ROI). Courtesy: CarbonQuest


Johnson believes CarbonQuest’s work can serve as a model for an industry he believes is ready to explode. While it’s early days yet, Johnson believes there is a great deal of potential for the future of the industry and its long-term potential.

“We have to go from 1 project a month, to one a week, to one a day and then 10 a day to make a significant difference. If we did 10 day that would only be 2500 systems or 5% of NYC buildings,” Johnson said. “We have to continue to innovate and drive costs down and performance and efficiency up on our journey to opening up scale global market applications. We need to continue to educate, create awareness and influence policy to maximize our mission potential. We are one of many innovative companies seeking to make a significant contribution to decarbonization and looking for customers and partners who want to join us on our quest for decarbonization.”

Carbon Quest

Local Law 97