Cost plunges for capturing carbon dioxide from the air

Maybe we can afford to suck CO2 out of the sky after all

(See "Go inside an industrial plant that sucks carbon dioxide straight out of the air.") The study, partially funded by the US Department of Energy, simulates a scaled-up version, based on the facility's actual performance and cost data.

"We would not be in business if carbon pricing did not exist".

Plans to build solar shields in space or to seed the seas with materials to soak up carbon have been seen as unsafe and a distraction to the more mundane but hard task of getting people to cut their emissions.

Other experts welcomed the study as a step to clear up huge uncertainties about the costs of "direct air capture".

Scientists at Harvard have developed a new method of scrubbing carbon from the atmosphere, and turning it into hydrocarbon fuels that could be burned in airplanes or even cars. They are using direct air capture.

Set up in 2009 with funding from Microsoft's Bill Gates and Canada oil sands financier Norman Murray Edwards, their pilot plant has been running since 2015, capturing about one tonne of Carbon dioxide per day.

Pulling carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air and using it to make synthetic fuel seems like the ultimate solution to climate change: Instead of adding ever more CO2 to the air from fossil fuels, we can simply recycle the same CO2 molecules over and over.

After several processing steps, a purer stream of Carbon dioxide is extracted and the capturing liquid is returned to the air contactor. But in 2011, a review panel of the American Physical Society found that DAC would likely cost about $600 per ton of captured CO2.

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In an interview, Mr. Oldham said Carbon Engineering plans to license its technology to existing industry customers or new entrants who want to invest in low-carbon fuels.

Dr. Keith acknowledged that scaling up to a commercial-size plant can prove more costly than anticipated, but insisted the technology is largely proven.

"I hope this changes views about this technology from being this thing which people think is a magic saviour which it isn't, or that it is absurdly expensive which it isn't, to an industrial technology that is do-able and can be developed in a useful way". Since its components are off the rack, it should be easy to scale up, Oldham said. "They like the investment proposition of taking that now very-low-value wind power, and doing a high capital cost investment in us to make this fuel that's a very high-value fuel".

Carbon Engineering's plant in Squamish, B.C., now pulls about one tonne of carbon a day from the air and produces about two barrels of fuel. When configured for this goal, the company was able to bring down the costs of pulling carbon from the air.

"Although direct air capture cost of around $100 per tonne is still somewhat steep, in our current situation where sticks and carrots for similar technologies are sorely lacking, the cost can only be brought down through further development and streamlining of individual technologies and conjugated processes", Edda Sif Aradóttir, from Reykjavik Energy told BBC News. Once purified, the captured Carbon dioxide can be injected underground or used to make commercial products, such as fuels or plastics.

"The biggest challenge we are facing is, however, that the words agreed on in the Paris agreement must be followed by actions". His process, though, could provide the means to adapt to climate change for activities that are hard to do without producing Carbon dioxide emissions, such as jet travel and producing concrete.

Those involved with Carbon Engineering are acutely aware of the challenges. The market will get a further boost as the Canadian government and USA states adopt clean fuel standards that will provide incentives for marketers to purchase low-carbon alternatives.


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