NYC skyscrapers turning to carbon capture to lessen climate change

Brian Asparro, chief operating officer of CarbonQuest, stands on April 18 in a production room where liquid carbon dioxide is converted from a byproduct of a natural gas fired water boiler to a salable industrial product in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

NEW YORK — From the outside, the residential high-rise on Manhattan’s Upper West Side looks pretty much like any other luxury building: A doorman greets visitors in a spacious lobby adorned with tapestry and marble.

Yet just below in the basement is an unusual set of equipment that no other building in New York City — indeed few in the world — can claim. In an effort to drastically reduce the 30-story building’s emissions, the owners have installed a maze of twisting pipes and tanks that collect carbon dioxide from the massive, gas-fired boilers in the basement before it goes to the chimney and is released into the air.

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The goal is to stop that climate-warming gas from entering the atmosphere. And there’s a dire need for reducing emissions from skyscrapers like these in such a vertical city. Buildings are by far the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions here, roughly two-thirds, according to the city buildings department.

New York state’s buildings also emit more air pollution than any other state’s.

So building owners must make dramatic cuts starting next year or face escalating fines under a new city law. About 50,000 structures — more than half the buildings in the city, are subject to Local Law 97. Other cities such as Boston and Denver followed suit with similar rules.

As a result, property managers are scrambling to change how their buildings operate. Some are installing carbon capture systems, which strip out carbon dioxide, direct it into tanks and prepare it for sale to other companies to make carbonated beverages, soap or concrete.

They see it as a way to meet emissions goals without having to relocate residents for extensive renovations. In this case, the carbon dioxide is sold to a concrete manufacturer in Brooklyn, where it’s turned into a mineral and permanently embedded in concrete.

“We think the problem is reducing emissions as quickly as possible,” said Brian Asparro, chief operating officer of CarbonQuest, which built the system. “Time is not on our side, and this type of solution can be installed quickly, cost-effectively and without a major disruption.”

Yet critics, many of them representing environmental groups, say building managers should be going much further: They argue that to achieve meaningful reductions in emissions, buildings should be significantly upgraded and switched to renewable-powered electricity instead of continuing to burn fossil fuels.

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