"Direct air capture technology offers a highly-scalable pathway to removing carbon from the atmosphere".
"The carbon dioxide generated via direct air capture can be combined with sequestration for carbon removal, or it can enable the production of carbon-neutral hydrocarbons, which is a way to take low-priced carbon-free power sources like solar or wind and channel them into fuels that can be used to decarbonise the transportation sector", said lead author David Keith, founder and chief scientist of Carbon Engineering and professor of applied physics and public policy at Harvard University.
Making direct air capture as cheap as possible is critical because a growing body of work finds it's going to be almost impossible to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 ˚C without rolling out some form of the technology on a huge scale. It could instead extract carbon dioxide from the air without introducing any new carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
"I hope it's a real change in the community's view of the technology", Keith says.
Others in the industry welcomed the fact that Carbon Engineering were bringing down costs, but felt that further incentives from governments were needed for carbon capture, utilisation and storage to achieve its potential. "This must change quickly if we are to [fulfill] the Paris agreement".
But those carbon-neutral fuels won't directly help to reduce carbon in the atmosphere (unless they're used in systems that capture carbon as well).
The pilot plant is made up of an industrial cooling tower, remodeled to pull Carbon dioxide from the air before converting it from a gas to a solid and back to a purified gas. The plant has been capturing 1 t-CO2/day using giant fans to draw air through an aqueous solution of potassium hydroxide (KOH) coupled to a calcium caustic recovery loop.
What if we could directly capture Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turn that into fuel? But in 2011, a review panel of the American Physical Society found that DAC would likely cost about $600 per ton of captured CO2. After running a pilot plant for three years, Canadian company Carbon Engineering (CE) has broken down the costs of a DAC system and shown it can be done much more cost-effectively than previously thought. After capturing the Carbon dioxide in solution, the plant transfers it into a solid, which when heated releases it in a pure gas stream.
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However, plans to capture Carbon dioxide directly from the air have been regarded as somewhat more substantial - essentially mirroring the actions of trees.
Keith and Oldham are optimistic that they have reduced scale-up risks by implementing direct air capture at reasonable costs using standard industrial equipment.
An industrial plant, costing hundreds of millions of dollars, could capture a million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, equivalent to emissions by 250,000 cars.
The technology makes synthetic fuels using only air, water and renewable power.
Carbon Engineering claims that by burning the company's gas in the auto, no fresh carbon-dioxide is released from the tailpipe and into Earth's atmosphere as this carbon dioxide came from the air in the first place.
That's more expensive than most fuels today, but not by much.
Although burning the fuel would produce CO2 emissions, since it came from CO2 that was removed from the atmosphere, the fuel would be considered to be carbon neutral.
"We think this is very scalable and will have world-wide markets", says Oldham. Still, Field cautions that the technology isn't a silver bullet for combatting climate change-there's no way yet to know whether it can scale up quickly enough to alter Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.