NYC Skyscrapers Turning to Carbon Capture to Lessen Climate Change

. New York City must focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from buildings to address climate change.

The residential high-rise in Manhattan's Upper West Side appears to be a typical luxury building from the outside. A doorman welcomes guests into a large lobby decorated with marble and tapestry.

In the basement, however, is a unique set of equipment. This is something that few buildings in New York City - and even fewer in the entire world - can boast. The owners of the 30-story building have installed a maze-like system of pipes and tanks to collect the carbon dioxide that is emitted by the gas-fired boilers located in the basement.

It is important to prevent this gas from entering our atmosphere. In a city with such a high verticality, it is urgent to reduce emissions from skyscrapers. According to the city's building department, buildings are the biggest source of greenhouse gases in this city, accounting for roughly two thirds.

New York's buildings emit more pollution than those in any other state.

A new city law requires building owners to make drastic cuts beginning next year, or else face increasing fines. Local Law 97 applies to more than 50% of the city's buildings, or about 50,000. Boston and Denver, among others, followed suit by implementing similar rules.

Property managers have been scrambling to make changes in the way their buildings are run. Others install carbon capture systems that remove carbon dioxide from the air, funnel it into tanks, and then prepare it to be sold to other companies for making carbonated drinks, soap, or concrete.

The idea is to achieve emissions targets without requiring residents to move for major renovations. In this case the carbon dioxide was sold to a Brooklyn concrete manufacturer, who turned it into a mineral that is permanently embedded in concrete.

Brian Asparro is the chief operating officer at CarbonQuest which developed the system. He said, "We believe the problem is to reduce emissions as quickly and efficiently as possible." This type of solution is cost-effective, quick and can be implemented without major disruption.

Many critics who represent environmental groups say that building managers could go further. They claim that in order to reduce emissions meaningfully, buildings need to be upgraded significantly and converted to renewable electricity rather than continuing to burn fossils fuels. The critics also voice concerns over the safety of storing large quantities of carbon dioxide in densely populated areas.

Anthony Rogers Wright, director of environmental Justice at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, said that carbon capture does not reduce emissions, but rather aims to move them elsewhere. The emissions are still there. We should also be clear that stopping emissions is the only way to lower them.

New York City has not yet decided whether or not carbon capture technology is a qualified emission reduction. Asparro, among others, is trying to convince city officials to accept the technology.


Two massive boilers with 500 horsepower rumble in the basement of an Upper West Side apartment complex, burning natural gases and emitting carbon dioxide. Asparro says that the boilers are expected to operate for another 10 or even 20 years and produce about half of the building's carbon dioxide emissions.

According to the city, the other half of emissions generated by the building are at the power plants that provide the building with its electricity. Asparro stated that the carbon capture system traps about 60% of boiler emissions. The system reduces the building's carbon emissions by 23%, when you include the electricity used to power it.

Asparro stated that boilers like these are found in hospitals and schools around the globe. Buildings are faced with a huge challenge in order to reduce their emissions.

Carbon dioxide and other gasses are diverted away from the chimney. They are piped into an area where parking spaces were repurposed for the carbon capture system. Gases are pumped over a material that separates the carbon dioxide. It is then compressed and cooled down to minus-10 degrees Fahrenheit. (minus-23 Celsius) This turns it into a liquid which can be stored in tanks. This process requires energy and does increase electricity consumption, but the overall system reduces the building's carbon dioxide emissions.

A truck will pull up to the spigots on the outside of the building once or twice per week and load it up with CO2 liquefied. The truck then carries the liquefied CO2 through city streets, across a Brooklyn bridge and to a concrete producer in Brooklyn.

Carbon capture technology is used on a large scale by oil and gas firms and manufacturing plants, to capture climate-warming CO2 and sell it or to get more oil out of the ground.

Now, a few green tech companies and owners of residential buildings are trying to implement this technology at a smaller scale for the first. New York City law requires that buildings larger than 25,000 square foot reduce their emissions. Radisson Blu Mall Of America, in Minnesota, installed a system to capture carbon dioxide, which is then used to make soap.

The federal government offers tax incentives to building owners who can afford the cost of carbon capture systems. According to NYC Accelerator a program which helps property managers and homeowners find ways to reduce carbon emissions, there are also other incentives to update buildings.

Josh London, Senior Vice President at Glenwood Management Corp. which manages this building, says that the apartment building has also computerized fans, motors and pumps, LED lights and battery storage to reduce energy consumption. The company intends to install carbon-capture systems in five more buildings this year.

Asparro estimates that without action, high-rise buildings similar to those in question could face fines as high as $1 million per year starting in 2030.

According to NYC Accelerator, nearly 70% of New York City’s large buildings are equipped with steam boilers powered by natural gas or petroleum. Luke Surowiec is the director of building decarbonization for ICF, which manages NYC Accelerator.

Surowiec stated that 'our buildings are old and inefficient. That's just the truth.' There are many opportunities that haven’t been taken advantage of.


In Brooklyn, the floor rumbles and shakes under a roar of metal gears, motors, and yellow machines at Glenwood Mason Supply Company Inc. Birds have somehow gotten in there and are flying between the towering piles.

A truck then delivers the liquefied CO2 collected in the Manhattan apartment block into this clamor. The liquid carbon dioxide will then be compressed using equipment from a company named CarbonCure and made into a solid.

Carbon dioxide, which is now dry ice in essence, flows into the structure, which resembles a pizza oven. Carbon dioxide reacts to calcium ions found in cement. Calcium carbonate is formed, and becomes embedded into the concrete.

Claire Nelson, geochemist and carbon capture specialist at Columbia Climate School, said that once carbon dioxide has reached a mineral state, the carbon dioxide will not be released until it is heated to approximately 900 degrees Celsius (1652 Fahrenheit).

Nelson explained: 'Unless a volcanic eruption occurs on top of the concrete building you own, this carbon will be there for ever.

According to PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, cement is the main component of concrete. It contributes around 7% of greenhouse gas emissions in the world.

Mineralized carbon dioxide can be added to concrete, but not much. According to Robert Niven CEO of CarbonCure who works with 700 producers of concrete in 30 countries, the average carbon footprint for concrete producers that use CarbonCure is 5%-6%.

Connie Cincotta of Glenwood Mason said that her company also takes other measures, such as reducing the amount of cement used in its concrete mix by adding recycled glass from industry.

She said, 'It would be helpful if we could get the cement out of this mix.'

Concrete blocks with CO2 mineralized by the company have been used, amongst others, in Amazon buildings and Manhattan charter schools.

Questions remain

Many environmental groups are skeptical about carbon capture, and prefer to invest in renewable energy. Many environmental groups are concerned that storing carbon dioxide in residential buildings, where it can be dangerous in high concentrations, could lead to suffocation.

A report by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration states that 45 people sought medical treatment at local hospitals after a ruptured carbon dioxide pipeline in Satartia in Mississippi in 2020. This included people who were caught in a cloud of vapor while driving. The report stated that people exposed to high levels of carbon dioxide may experience rapid breathing and confusion. They could also have elevated blood pressure or arrhythmias. Asphyxiation can be fatal in extreme concentrations of CO2.

Rogers-Wright says that storing concentrated carbon dioxide beneath a residential building can be a problem, as 'in Mississippi, the people didn't live right on top'. We're talking big buildings in New York City. The risks are not known, but are evident.

He said that if an accident were to occur with a truck carrying carbon dioxide, there was also the risk of leaks.

Carbon capture advocates respond by saying that such scenarios can be prevented. Asparro stated that the carbon capture technology in the Manhattan apartment was approved by several city agencies.

It's done in a safe and manageable manner.

Nelson, a Columbia geochemist who has also founded a company for carbon capture, believes that storing natural gas in basements can be more dangerous than carbon dioxide storage. Many people are willing to accept the risks associated with natural gas.

Proponents of the solution say that scaling it and other solutions quickly enough is what will make a significant difference to climate change.

Many proponents believe that many solutions should be implemented at once.

London stated that it is not possible to power the entire apartment building in Manhattan with renewable energy because the local utility does not have enough renewable electricity to sell to New York's customers.

He added that 'to use solar power, you'll need a larger footprint than we have on a building of this size.

London wants to purchase power from wind farms when they become more available.

He said that 'that will take a very long time, so I do not think we can afford to sit still'. "We can reduce emissions while we await that."