Tomorrows Hero

Ethan Novek wants to capture carbon and clean up fossil fuels

ethan novek headshot new

Editor’s Note: This feature is part of Tomorrow’s Hero, a series profiling young innovators transforming the world for a brighter future. Discover their stories here.

Story highlights

Novek's prize-winning method aims to strip CO2 from power station emissions

His concept has been peer-reviewed and patented

Novek is currently scaling-up his technology and has attracted investors

CNN  — 

“You can’t achieve the Paris accord values unless you have some form of carbon capture,” says Ethan Novek.

The 19-year-old founder of Innovator Energy is keen to stress the urgency of the problem. The majority of energy is still sourced by burning fossil fuels, releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. Continuing to do so at current rates will make it impossible to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

That is, unless the act of burning fossil fuels can be cleaned up – and Novek is in the business of making that happen.

An age-old problem

Carbon capture is not a new idea. One method, oxy-combustion, was pioneered in the late 19th century, while another, using chemical absorption, was patented in the 1930s.

“These key technology elements have a very long history at a very substantial industrial scale,” explains Niall Mac Dowell, senior lecturer at the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College, London.

In West Texas, the oil industry has used carbon dioxide in enhanced oil recovery since the 1960s and ’70s, he adds. It remains the most popular use for captured CO2. More recently, intrepid startups have sought to turn carbon dioxide in to gasoline and ethanol, a liquid alcohol.