The idea of direct carbon capture from the atmosphere to stop climate change has been around for over a decade, but it’s only recently that this technology has been tested out in the real world.
A CNBC video features a company called Carbon Engineering, based in Squamish, British Columbia. It has built a pilot plant that sucks carbon dioxide from the atmosphere using direct capture technology (DAC).
It’s CEO, Steve Oldham, claims that one of its plants can do the work of 40 million trees. David Keith, a Harvard Professor and the company’s chief scientist says that the technology they use to capture carbon has the lowest capital and energy costs of any of the CO2 capture from atmosphere solutions.
Oldham says that we have a big problem with large quantities of CO2 in the atmosphere and if we have a mechanism to collect it a large scale it will give us the flexibility to address climate change and will start to address the emissions yesterday, today, and all the way back to the industrial age.
The video explains how DAC works using giant fans and complex chemical processes to remove CO2 from the air. They have announced to build its first commercial plant.
Captured carbon will either be stored underground or will be used to create fuels, and the plant is powered by a combination of renewable energy and natural gas and the CO2 generated is captured, eventually, the company plans to run fully on renewable energy, the video says.
Carbon Engineering will also use its captured carbon to produce synthetic fuels. Geoff Holmes, Business Development of Carbon Engineering says that this synthetic fuel is 70 to 90 per cent less carbon compared with the conventional fuels that we use today, and he adds that with more technological innovation it can get to zero per cent carbon.
The technology looks very promising but not everyone shares the same enthusiasm due to the fact that this project is backed and funded by giant oil companies.
Dan Kammen, Professor of Energy at the University of California, Berkeley said that (Carbon Engineering) partnering with oil companies is stepping in the wrong direction, and if you are part of the solution then the technology (should) not be a shield or a cover for fossil fuels. You are either a part of the effort to grow the green energy economy without perpetuating the dirty energy and sadly Carbon Engineering is on the wrong side of the equation, he adds.
Mark Jacobson, professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering of Stanford University says that they are not stopping the fossil fuel industry but promoting it.
Kamen thinks the price of carbon needs to be higher before direct capture makes any sense. At $5 to $20 per metric ton, he believes the technology is not financially viable compared to renewables such as solar and wind energy.
The challenge to the feasibility of carbon capture is that without public investment or more stringent prices on carbon pricing initiatives there is no monetary incentive for Carbon Engineering to bury carbon underground without treating the product like crude or synthetic oil.
Oldham said that governments are not funding carbon removal technology and to the critics, he asks, ‘do they want us to wait?’
Sabin Fuss Head of Mercator Institute’s Sustainable Resource Management and Global Change is considering DAC as one of the solutions to climate change given the urgency of climate change.
She says that they are assessing a lot of different pathways to reach 1.5C but none of them reaches the temperature target without removing CO2 from the atmosphere, she adds, each year that we wait we are making ourselves dependent of carbon removal.
Fiona Wil, BHP Vice President for Climate Change and Sustainability says that we need all the solutions for climate change and more of it such as renewables, direct air capture, carbon capture and storage, nature-based solutions, informed policy development because the challenge of climate change is so great that the time for picking winners is gone and we need to take all the above approach.
Watch the video to know the merits of direct air capture and whether this can be a great solution to mitigate and adapt to climate change.