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A Quebec company transforms CO₂ into de-icing salt



The co-founders of Electro Carbon, Ulrich Legrand and Martin Larocque, have developed a technology transforming CO2 into de-icing salt. This helps reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.


Martin Larocque is an entrepreneur involved for more than 20 years in the creation and growth of businesses. Ulrich Legrand holds a doctorate in chemical engineering from McGill University. Together they founded Electro Carbon in 2019.


Ulrich Legrand first led a pilot project in a laboratory at McGill University by creating a small electrochemical cell. The two entrepreneurs were thus able to demonstrate that they were capable of taking CO2 in the form of a gas and transforming it into potassium formate, that is to say formate salt, the substance used for de-icing. airport runways and roads.


Subsequently, Electro Carbon joined forces with the National Center for Electrochemistry and Environmental Technologies (CNETE) . This allowed the company to build its first system.

Today, entrepreneurs are developing the Eco100, that is to say an electrolyzer which has a production capacity of 100 tonnes of potassium formate per year. In the long term, they want to set up the Eco5000, which could produce 5,000 tonnes.


A study on the life cycle of Electro Carbon's technology shows that for each tonne of potassium formate produced, there is a positive impact of 2.15 tonnes compared to conventional production methods.


Today, there are technologies that capture CO2 directly from the air. “For us, it could become something interesting because we will be able to decide where we install the electrolyzers,” explains Mr. Larocque.

For now, the company plans to deploy the first system within 18 to 24 months. The Eco100 will be installed in the industrial chimney of Chimie ParaChem, a manufacturer of paraxylene, a hydrocarbon used to produce polyester. This Montreal-East plant already has a system that captures CO2 and purifies it. Electro Carbon will connect to this system to transform the purified CO2 into de-icing salt.


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The first market Electro Carbon is targeting is airports. “They have strict standards since the planes that land have people’s lives at stake,” describes Martin Larocque. In addition, the products used must demonstrate that they are not corrosive.


On the economic side, potassium formate is interesting for this industry. The province's airports already use potassium formate, but it comes from overseas, often from Asia or the Middle East. Electron Carbon de-icing salt has a smaller environmental impact and is competitively priced compared to de-icing salt produced through conventional methods.

The crux of the matter in clean technologies is to create a technology that will provide an interesting environmental benefit, but which will also be able to have an economic benefit. Martin Larocque

This is a different scenario for the road network since de-icing salt has a minimal cost. “Annually, in Quebec, the government puts 1.4 million tonnes of salt on our roads. This creates damage to infrastructure and corrosion. It also creates quite significant environmental problems, in particular it pollutes our lakes, contaminates our groundwater, atrophies marine life,” underlines Mr. Larocque.


The cost of ecological potassium formate is, however, higher than that of the salt currently used on the roads. “But how much does it cost to pollute a lake, a water table, destroy infrastructure? We must associate a cost with the harmful effects of road salts,” believes the entrepreneur.


Electro Carbon has already started discussions with the City of Montreal and the Ministry of Transport of Quebec (MTQ) for the use of ecological potassium formate. For now, the company has a patent on its technology. He does not rule out possibly exporting his expertise internationally.


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