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New Tech Tool Turns Building Carbon Emissions Into Cash

Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on February 15, 2023

Lincoln Square, Manhattan

Carbon capture, building emissions, Local Law 97, green electric grid, co-op and condo boards.

Carbon emissions are captured, liquefied, loaded into a truck and used in the making of concrete blocks.

Feb. 15, 2023

Most co-op and condo boards today are scrambling to reduce the amount of carbon their buildings produce so they will avoid looming fines under Local Law 97 of the Climate Mobilization Act. Strategies include installing solar panels, tightening the building envelope, switching the boiler from oil to natural gas, installing LED lights or electric heat pumps or any of dozens of other retrofits.

At the Grand Tier, a 240-unit, 30-story residential tower overlooking Lincoln Center, the strategy is a bit more futuristic: capture the carbon emissions and then sell them. In effect, turn a liability into an asset.

“We developed a four-step process,” says Brian Asparro, chief operating officer of CarbonQuest, creator of a system that turns harmful carbon into useful cash. “First we capture the carbon dioxide after it leaves a boiler or cogen system. Then we separate the CO2 from nitrogen, oxygen and water vapor and convert the carbon dioxide from a gas to a liquid. Then we put the liquid in a truck and send it to Brooklyn, where it’s used to manufacture concrete blocks for the construction industry. The Grand Tier’s system is designed to capture 60% of the carbon emissions from the boiler — which is one-quarter of the building’s total carbon emissions. It’s possible to capture 100% of the emissions. It depends on what the customer is looking for.”

This is what’s known as a “circular” economy, says Josh London, senior vice president of operations at Glenwood Management, which built and manages the Grand Tier, a luxury rental building that opened in 2004. 

“We’d been looking at ways to reduce our portfolio’s carbon emissions long before Local Law 97 and the pandemic,” London says. “What piqued our interest about carbon capture the most is that CarbonQuest said they could capture between 500 and 600 metric tons of our carbon emissions a year.”

Beginning next year, building owners will be fined $268 for every metric ton of carbon they emit above their allowable limit. Therefore, emissions of 500 tons above the cap would result in a yearly fine of $134,000. The caps will shrink in subsequent years, likely pushing fines even higher.

“So we decided to go ahead and do the pilot project,” London says. “We took our time choosing a site for the system. We could have put it anywhere, but we found a spot in the parking garage that’s close to the boiler. Installing it was a real engineering feat.”

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The system takes up six parking spaces in the building’s 150-space garage. Though London declines to reveal the upfront cost of the system, he says it will pay for itself in six years or less — partly through the sale of the liquid carbon, which now fetches about $300 per metric ton. When the 7,000-pound storage tank in the garage is full, a retrofitted truck arrives from Glenwood Mason Supply in Brooklyn to collect the liquid carbon. (The company is not affiliated with Glenwood Management.) Glenwood Mason Supply uses the liquid carbon in the making of concrete building blocks. It can also be used to produce synthetic fuels, plastics, chemicals and other products, or it can be stored permanently underground.

“This technology is off the charts,” says Jeff Hansen, vice president of architectural sales and marketing at Glenwood Mason Supply. “We’re helping to decarbonize the city.”

London adds: “It’s a technology that needs to be embraced. We can’t sit around and wait for a green electric grid. I think of carbon capture as a bridge between where we are now and where we’ll be when there’s an electric grid that’s fully powered by renewable energy sources. For now, what matters is that we’re reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.”

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS — SYSTEM CREATOR: CarbonQuest. BUILDING OWNER: Glenwood Management. CARBON BUYER: Glenwood Mason Supply.

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