EPFL spin-off Qaptis has developed a mobile carbon capture system that can cut freight trucks’ carbon emissions by up to 90%. The company just installed a prototype of its technology at a freight carrier based in Tolochenaz in order to conduct pilot tests locally.
Every year, trucks shipping goods across Switzerland emit over a million tons of CO2, according to figures from the Swiss Federal Statistical Office. The share of electric trucks is growing but the exact percentage has not been made public. In the EU, just 600 electric trucks weighing at least 16 metric tons were registered in the first quarter of 2023, compared to 86,455 combustion-engine ones.
Qaptis aims to reduce the carbon footprint of these conventional freight trucks with its new decarbonization system, which traps the CO2 coming out of the exhaust pipe and stores it in a liquid state. With a prototype now installed at a local freight carrier, with which Qaptis has entered into a strategic partnership, the startup is poised to run pilot tests under real-world conditions. “
The system’s core technology was developed at EPFL’s Industrial Process and Energy Systems Engineering Laboratory. It involves transitioning CO2 from a gas to a liquid state while using as little outside energy as possible in order to create a virtuous circle.
Qaptis’ system is intended to be installed on existing trucks. Once the CO2 is collected from a truck’s exhaust pipe, it’s cooled and separated from other gases (nitrogen and oxygen) by passing the mixture over an adsorbent in powder form.
We eventually plan to use an organometallic powder that will further improve our process. But the one we have in mind isn’t yet being produced on an industrial scale.—Théodore Caby, Qaptis co-founder and COO
After the adsorbent becomes saturated, it’s heated using the heat from the combustion engine. This releases the CO2, which high-speed turbochargers then compress into a liquid so that it takes up less volume.
The liquid CO2 will be stored in a tank behind the cab and can be drained when the truck returns to its freight terminal. Later on, the firm will develop a recovery system allowing drivers to empty their CO2 tanks at gas stations, so that its technology can be employed more broadly.
We’ve finally completed the first step, which was transferring our core technology from the lab to industry. Now we’ll focus on developing a device that can be installed directly in trucks.—Théodore Caby
Qaptis reached a major R&D milestone this past spring when its prototype produced the first drops of liquid CO2. Although still somewhat cumbersome, the prototype can be hooked up with standard connections and can run under normal conditions. It was initially tested at a US firm with which Qaptis has long-standing ties, but was recently transferred to Tolochenaz for further optimization work. However, it’ll still be a few more months before the system is miniaturized enough to be installed on vehicles.