Use CO2 to grow food

For energy industry stalwart Kerston Coombs, now is the time to start thinking of this possibility in the face of a shifting industrial landscape which poses challenges for the next generation.

“Looking towards the future, I think we here have to start thinking of other things that we might be able to do with our energy resources, with the existing plants and so on,” Coombs said, speaking at an event called the Caribbean Business Leadership Forum on Tuesday. “I like the idea... of using CO2 to assist in agricultural diversity because we emit a lot of CO2 from our ammonia plants, and right now that CO2 is all going into the atmosphere.”

Coombs said while the waste could be used to enhance oil production, it might be better diverted into what are known as Green and Blue technologies to pump up agriculture.

“There is of course the suggestion that one could use that CO2 for secondary recovery of oil but it could also be used to speed up, enhance, enlarge the agricultural footprint of the country,” Coombs said at the event held at the Hyatt Regency, Dock Road, Port-of-Spain. “That is an idea I think we need following up on.”

Coombs – who was involved in the engineering, construction and operation of Trinidad and Tobago’s first methanol plant – said the challenges facing the petrochemical sector do not just relate to depressed prices.

“One of the things that has happened is that the price of gas has come down or retreated from the fairly high numbers of not so long ago,” Coombs said. “And in particular, in the case of gas, a lot has got to do with the emergence of new sources of gas in the United States. Our development here of a large ammonia and methanol business was largely due to the fact that at the time that in the United States was much more expensive than our gas and even when we produced the materials and shipped to the United States, that was still more competitive. In fact, we really closed down the ammonia and methanol business in the United States. This is a fact.”

But new plants are due to soon spring up, he warned.

“Interestingly, there are currently perhaps eight or ten new methanol plants being built in the United States today,” Coombs said. “So what is the challenge for us? With lower gas prices, and limited supplies, our producers have a task now because the United States is our main market. On the bright side our plants have been built, they are all paid down. The new plants in the United States – when they do get built – and overcome the hurdles they have to face in terms of environmental approvals and so on, will be expensive. They will have challenges with their initial cost. So we have some time.” He noted LNG exports have shifted to markets outside of the United States.

“The bulk of our exports now go to South America and to the Far East,” Coombs said. “We are not entirely out of the game, although there is a view that prices will remain fairly low for maybe a year or two, we are not out of it.”

Coombs spent 18 years at Federation Chemicals (now Yara Trinidad Ltd) and Trinidad Nitrogen Limited in various senior positions in engineering and the management of ammonia, urea and other process operations. He occasionally performed the duties of the Plant Manager of a Complex comprising three large ammonia plants and in 1982 he joined the National Energy Corporation (NEC) as Technical and Engineering Manager. At NEC he was involved in the engineering, construction and operation of Trinidad and Tobago’s first methanol plant, and was subsequently engaged in the development of the first majority locally-owned petrochemical project, the Caribbean Methanol Company’s plant at Point Lisas. He is a past secretary of the Methanol Institute (based in the USA) and past President of the Trinidad & Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce.

The Caribbean Business Leadership Forum was organised by a steering committee chaired by Nigel Salina, a former Clico director, and was sponsored, the organisers said, by several companies including MAN Products and Services of Germany.

Also speaking at the same event was Michel Alarcon of a Canadian organisation called IGES Canada Limited, which has been involved in Green and Blue Technology. Alarcon said agricultural yields can double with the use of these technologies which include the use of insulated and regulated environments.

“This also applies in this beautiful country of yours with limited growing seasons and water shortages,” he said. The technology involves applying consistent levels of light and moisture, hydroponic systems, polarised water, and CO2 enrichment.

“We take waste energy, we take waste heat and generate electricity,” he said. “We take CO2 and turn that into fresh, health, organic green products year-round using a tenth of the water resources that normal agriculture uses and the yield is 100 per greater per acre on land. The beauty of this is we don’t need arable land. We can grow this on industrial sites. We don’t take land away from traditional farmers. We don’t use pesticides and we do not use genetically-modified seed sources. It’s about waste management and waste optimisation


"Use CO2 to grow food"

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