Removal of CO2 from ambient air with direct air capture technology

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How products are made, shipped and sold can contribute to a company’s carbon footprint, which is the measure of carbon-containing greenhouse gases released into the air. But what if a company could capture and clean up carbon dioxide (CO2) directly from the atmosphere to offset the company’s carbon footprint with the click of a mouse? This is not a futuristic technology, but an expanding process called direct air capture (DAC) and carbon storage.

Interest in deploying DAC and carbon storage is growing at a rapid pace. In April 2022, the US Department of Energy (DOE) announcement approximately $14 million in funding for five Initial Engineering Design Studies (FEEDs) to leverage existing low-carbon energy to develop DAC technology and reliable carbon storage. The new funding opportunity follows the $6.5 billion set aside in the Infrastructure Investment and Employment Act for Direct Air Capture and Carbon Dioxide Storage, which includes $3.5 billion to develop four regional DAC centres.

Aviation, shipping and agriculture are among the hardest sectors to decarbonize, according to the DOE. The urgency to accelerate DAC deployment highlights how environmental researchers believe the technology could help the United States meet climate and energy goals.

Understand how Direct Air Capture works

DAC is a form of carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technology. A common application of CCUS technology comes directly from large point sources, such as a coal or natural gas power plant or other industrial fossil fuel combustion source. Instead of letting the CO2 enter the atmosphere, CO2 produced during fuel combustion is removed from the flue gases, collected and transported to be injected deep underground, where it is permanently stored and monitored or used for beneficial purposes.

The DAC does not require direct coupling to a point source of emissions; instead, it removes CO2 directly from the ambient air. This gives DAC technology one of its greatest advantages: flexibility of implementation. DAC technology can be placed almost anywhere subject to permit requirements and provides significant flexibility to locate DAC technology closer to the eventual end use or sequestration location. For example, if the captured CO2 will be discharged into a pipeline or an underground well where it will be stored, the DAC technology can be implemented near this final source.

A variety of industries can benefit from DAC, especially those struggling to decarbonize due to the absence of a large point source of emissions. In the transport sector, for example, it is not possible to purify CO2 emissions coming out of the tailpipe of internal combustion engine vehicles on the road. Instead, a DAC installation can remove CO2 ambient air and offset the carbon dioxide produced by vehicles.

Development of DAC installations

Forty CCUS power generation projects are under development around the world, according to the International Energy Agency. Two commercial power plants have been retrofitted with CCUS: the Petra Nova power plant near Houston, Texas, and the Boundary Dam project in Saskatchewan, Canada.

Climeworks, Carbon Engineering, Global Thermostat and several other companies use or develop DAC carbon capture technology.

What will be the world’s largest DAC plant is under development in the Permian Basin in West Texas. The initial plant should be able to capture 500 kilotonnes of CO2 each year when it enters service, expected in 2024. As an example of the ability of DAC technology to support the decarbonization of industries seen as a challenge to decarbonize, it was recently announced that Airbus has signed a multi-year contract with the facility for 100,000 tonnes per year of carbon removal. Other large-scale DAC installations are in various stages of development.

As interest in DAC technology grows, some of the biggest challenges are permitting underground injection and sequestration sites where CO2 will be permanently stored and transport infrastructure (pipes) to move the captured CO2 to sequestration sites. The process of obtaining the necessary permits can be long, complex and subject to various forms of opposition due to various environmental requirements.

Incentives to accelerate DAC projects

Funding allocated through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will help develop four large-scale regional DAC centers to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Funding will also be directed to projects that can demonstrate capture processing and delivery of unused captured carbon. Funding can take the form of cooperative agreements and recipients can be universities, governments, national laboratories and non-governmental organizations.

US 45Q tax credit is also available for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) and aims to incentivize companies to invest in the technology. Recently announced financial incentives, combined with growing interest in DAC, will help industries meet their carbon reduction targets.

Businesses can position themselves to secure federal funds available to support clean energy solutions. Find out how this funding will be disbursed.

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