“Nothing is impossible”

In the week that marks Earth Day, C-Capture’s R&D Manager, Dr Douglas Barnes discusses the importance of carbon capture in the fight against climate change.

I find it really interesting working out how something can be done. The technical challenge of solving a puzzle – hypothesising how we can do it and how we can solve a problem. What if we did this? And what if it worked? Nothing is impossible.

The indefatigable approach that Douglas takes to solve complex, technical challenges led in no small way to the initial discovery of the basis of C-Capture’s unique and innovative carbon capture technology. An idea that came to him while he was playing around, as he describes it, with some non-intuitive chemistry, during a so-called Friday afternoon experiment.

The discovery was a major turning point for the company that develops world-leading chemical solutions to help mitigate the impacts of climate change. Based on fundamentally different chemistry, C-Capture’s unique approach uses up to 40% less energy than current commercially available technologies, is environmentally benign and is extremely robust so suitable for use even within industries that are difficult to decarbonise.

Douglas earned his first-class MChem degree from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Leeds. It was there he first met Professor Chris Rayner – C-Capture’s Founder and Director and Professor of Organic Chemistry at the University of Leeds – a meeting that would shape his future career. Professor Rayner was Douglas’ organic chemistry tutor during his undergraduate degree and, later on, his PhD supervisor as Douglas pursued an interest in the utilisation of high-pressure CO­2 in pharmaceutical synthesis.

During his PhD, Douglas formed part of Professor Rayner’s research group in the School of Chemistry at the University of Leeds, investigating the unique properties of supercritical CO2 to effect the reactivity of organic transformations.  Other pioneering research in the group formed the basis of C-Capture, which was founded in 2009 as a spin-off company following backing from IP Group – a leading intellectual property commercialisation company that aims to address some of the world’s most pressing challenges through the companies they support.

Professor Rayner said:

“It is incredibly rewarding to see students you have taught develop into individuals who are really making an impact on the world. In the early years, I don’t think any of us thought we would be in this position, where we have a real climate emergency, and a technology that has so much potential to mitigate climate change. Doug’s tenacity, enthusiasm, and creativity have made him one of the leading industrial scientists working in this vital area. He’s also great to work with, and a vital part of the C-Capture team.”

Douglas was one of the company’s first employees, joining in 2011 with experienced process engineer, Caspar Schoolderman – now C-Capture’s Chief Operating Officer and Director of Engineering – who worked together to develop C-Capture’s first-generation technology up to pre-pilot scale.

C-Capture has grown exponentially since then. The next-generation, clean tech company’s team has expanded from a total of 5 in 2018 to a diverse and talented team of over 30 individuals, all dedicated to developing world-leading chemical processes for carbon dioxide removal. C-Capture aims to double the number of colleagues again in the next 2 years as it demonstrates, then deploys, its unique carbon capture technology internationally and across a broad range of industrial sectors.

“It’s strange to think how much change the company has seen sometimes but it’s testament to the significance of the work we’re doing here at C-Capture. I’m glad to have been a part of it from the beginning. It’s incredible job satisfaction, moving from wondering if an idea will work to seeing your ideas manifest with and see pilot plants being built. I’m proud I have created new knowledge in the carbon capture space.”

Today, Douglas forms part of C-Capture’s senior management, heading up the Chemistry Team and, with over 15 years research and development experience, has recently been promoted to R&D Manager. He leads across all aspects of solvent development and supports engineering activities to scale up the company’s technology. Recognising the importance of public engagement in reaching net zero, he also speaks publicly about the importance of carbon capture.

“I think even today people are still unaware of the magnitude of change we’re going to see across the planet within our own lifetime due to the impacts of climate change. We need to do more than just limit the damage we’re doing and use every solution we can to start reversing the damage. Carbon capture is an essential step we need to take on the route to net zero – we just can’t combat climate change without it.”

“The world has left it so late in the day to act. But we can do it.”

Earth Day takes place 22nd April and is a global movement highlighting the need to take action against climate change. The theme for Earth Day 2022 is “Invest in Our Planet” focusing on accelerating solutions to climate change and to activate everyone – governments, citizens, and businesses – to build a sustainable future.

Dr Douglas Barnes is speaking on ‘Carbon – Captured! Processes for clearing the air’ at Quantum Sauce’s Love Your Planet event on 20th April, 7pm, at The Constitutional, Farsley, Leeds.