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Turning Canada Into The World's Carbon Capture Capital

Quebec start-up Deep Sky aims to build large-scale
carbon-removal and sequestration infrastructures in Quebec, Ontario, and Alberta

By Suzanne Forcese

“Even if we achieve an energy transition, the Earth is already too warm. The Earth is not going to cool itself. The ice is going to continue to melt. The droughts are going to continue. We need to reframe how we think of this problem even if it is super scary. We need to remove the carbon. All of it” -- Frédéric Lalonde, Co-Founder of Deep Sky

A rendering of Deep Sky’s Carbon Capture Technology that will draw CO2 molecules from the air and ocean without consuming energy and then safely sequester it underground

Interview with Fred Lalonde

WT: Thanks for speaking with WaterToday Fred. Recently you were a featured speaker at the Quebec Climate Solutions Festival where innovators such as yourself and investors came together to solve the climate crisis.

What can you tell us about the Festival and your message?

Lalonde: These guys are doing something interesting. Montreal has a tradition of festivals, the Jazz Festival for instance. Over the past couple of decades, it has spilled over into tech. This was Canada’s inaugural version of the original Climate Solutions Festival held in Israel.

There are a lot of climate conferences. Most of them are aligned with policy but there are not a lot of events involving business. This festival merged businesses with start-ups, governments, and venture capitalists. It was a different audience than we are used to seeing and a positive blending of inputs.

My message to this eclectic audience was the same as it always is. Unless we pull all the CO2 out of the atmosphere and the oceans we are headed for social and economic collapse within a few decades.

We are going to have to deal with everything we have done historically. We cannot just transition away from fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are only half the problem, only half of the investment, half of the technology curve and we do not have until 2080. The way we are going we are going to be in trouble within a decade.

WT: Please outline the journey that brought you to co-found Deep Sky.

Lalonde: About 15 years ago, together with Joost Ouwerkerk I founded Hopper, the largest mobile travel marketplace in the world, a Canadian company that is also the second largest software company in Canada.

At Hopper, we’ve been running a built-in-house Nature-based program, planting trees to offset all the CO2 that our customers emit when they travel. This year we are showing about $7 Billion worth of travel. To offset those gigatons of CO2, we have been putting trees down in the mangroves of Kenya and Madagascar.

With 25 million trees planted, we believed we were making an impact on solving global warming until I realized we were not even close to a solution. The problem is infinitely larger than everybody understands. After a lot of sleepless nights, I realized we must take all the carbon out. And if we do not do it, who will?

WT: Please explain how you envision removing all the carbon. What is the Deep Sky overview?

Lalonde: Deep Sky is a carbon removal company. There have been a few attempts at removing CO2 from the atmosphere and the ocean. Most have been small-scale. A lot of natural resources are required to scale up. Enormous amounts of power requirements would rule out burning natural gas. That means renewable energy would make sense. Eastern Quebec and parts of Ontario are two of the very few places on Earth where there are billions of kilowatts of unused renewable energy.

Then you need to do something about the billion tons of CO2. Saturating the market with nanotubes or cement will not do it.

The only remaining solution is to put it underground, which means drilling. Because countries and states have oversight over all these methods, we approached the Quebec Government and started Deep Sky.

An oil and gas company drills extracts oil and gas, refines it, and has credits, trading, and distribution methods all the way to the pump. The way we think of Deep Sky is the same but running backwards.

Instead of extracting fossil fuels and burning them for energy, we are consuming energy and putting CO2 underground. It is the same skill set. You need to capture the CO2, compress it, and drill. You need to put it underground and make sure it stays there.

WT: What motivated your novel approach?

Lalonde: We are in the second year of a global drought that is leading to social and economic chaos. We concluded that the CO2 from every barrel of oil, and every litre of natural gas that we burn must be pulled out of the atmosphere and oceans.

When you frame the problem that way versus just an energy transition when you say it all must come out, the problem is quite different. Both in scale and urgency. When we ran the numbers on this and arrived at this conclusion, we realized somebody had to jump in and do it. 

In 2019, when we started Deep Sky, it was a fringe point of view. Now people are starting to realize we are going to have to do massive amounts of removal.

WT: Deep Sky has been described as the most ambitious carbon removal company.

Lalonde:  We are looking at the gigaton scale. There are a lot of smaller projects -- and we need them-- but somebody is going to have to corral these resources. Having spent the last 15 years building a global company, I have access to resources and people around the world that I did not have 15 years ago. So, if we were going to do this we might as well go all in and try to build something that has a chance of success.

What is most important is not our ambition -- although I hope it inspires others-- it is the fact that Canada has the natural resources to remove all the CO2 in the atmosphere. We have all this energy we are wasting in the East. In the west, we have this massive geological formation where the Alberta oil sands are, that could store more CO2. And there's a pipeline that connects them. We have a policy environment that is stable, and a geopolitical environment that is stable. We are one of the richest countries in the world. When you make a bet on who will be the Saudi Arabia carbon removal giant in 20 years, Canada comes out on top.

Canadas moving in the right direction. What needs to happen now is a collaboration between Alberta and Quebec and Ontario.

WT: Deep Sky is not a tech start-up. Can you explain to our viewers how your model works?

Lalonde: We are not focused on the R&D, on the removal itself. The technology to remove CO2 is relatively simple. It is not fusion, not battery, not even solar cells. A lot of companies have tried to repurpose oil and gas tech but that has not worked well.

New generation companies are using liquids like water to capture the CO2 from the atmosphere or to pull it out of the ocean and let the ocean do the capturing

What we are doing is bringing everything together. We provide the power, the legislative environment to run it, the physical buildings, the capital, the expertise, and most importantly the geological sequestration. That means drilling which costs tens of millions of dollars. Fundamentally we are trying to assemble all this.

CO2 is a big ugly molecule. There is only so much you can do to it, and it requires energy no matter what you do. We are focused on taking these technologies and going from something that is the size of a postage stamp in a lab to something that is the size of a building in downtown Toronto. That is the challenge with CO2. We are going to have to build an industry that is as large as the oil and gas industry in the next 20 years, and we have not started. It took more than 20 years to build the oil and gas industry. We are trying to do is accelerate this and we think a lot of it is operational.

WT: What stage are you at now?

Lalonde: The priorities coming up now are selecting the sites. It is necessary to be close to a place where the carbon can be stored. Mine tailings for instance.

It is necessary to be able to get power to that place. Putting up power lines and pipes is not a great way to start. We hope to be operational by this time next year.

We are also looking at any startup on the planet that is capturing CO2. We are there within weeks to visit them and figure out what they need.

WT: Are you still looking for talent to join your team?

Lalonde: We are looking for people who are deeply knowledgeable about geological sequestration and power grids. One of the most encouraging things is we are getting access to a quality of talent that I've never seen in my life.

WT: Any plans yet for pilot projects?

Lalonde: The first two will be in Quebec and we are looking to Alberta and Ontario. The idea is to get these first sites up. Think of it like a Tesla dealership. Instead of cars, we have carbon removal techs inside. I also want it accessible for people to come and meet us. We want people to understand what the tech is and how available it is. That it's not dangerous.

We are ready to prove this can be done.


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