Scientists say cost of sucking carbon from thin air could tumble

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

Getting it right also meant keeping the costs below $100 for each ton of Carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere. After all, humans have been causing emissions for centuries, and it's unlikely that it will ever run out, according to Steve Oldham, Carbon Engineering CEO.

A new application of old technology may be the answer.

Canada-based clean engineering company Carbon Engineering outlined the design for a large industrial facility that said it could collect carbon dioxide from the air at a cost of United States dollars 94 to USD 232 per tonne.

David Keith is a Harvard professor and founder of CE, the one who came with the idea of such a plant.

Carbon Engineering (CE), a company that is partly owned by Bill Gates has partnered with a team from Harvard University to develop this technology, which the company says can now directly capture co2 from the atmosphere for less than $100 per ton in a method they call Direct Air Capture (DAC).

The paper could have major ramifications across the industry.

Keith says producing synthetic fuels offers a sustainable business model that could help companies scale up and reduce the costs of the technology, easing the path to that eventual goal. This unit would be one of several that would collectively capture 1M tons of Carbon dioxide per year.

Keith explains, "Until now, research suggested it would cost $600USD per ton to remove CO2 from the atmosphere using DAC technology, making it too expensive to be a feasible solution to removing legacy carbon at scale". "This paper provides that transparency".

This price point is low enough to use direct air capture to start tackling the roughly 20 per cent of global carbon emissions that result from driving, flying, trucking, and other transportation.

"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.

Carbon Engineering has secured $30 million to date.

"This isn't some new clever piece of science or weird chemical we synthesized in some fancy lab", Keith said in an interview. "That's the design choice we made".

Scientists have always been skeptical towards the technological advances allowing for carbon emissions and thus climate change to be reduced.

In the Carbon Engineering system, a remodeled industrial cooling tower containing a liquid hydroxide solution captures CO₂ and converts it into carbonate. When heated, the pellet releases the Carbon dioxide that can then be pressurized and pumped underground. It started converting carbon dioxide into fuels past year.

"In a post-Paris Accords world, everyone has been talking about carbon removal but most of the analysis is secondary literature or policy perspectives", said Keith. It's now seeking additional funds to build a larger facility that will begin selling fuels, though still on a relatively small scale. However, the company plan to use the gas - with the addition of hydrogen derived from water - to make a carbon-neutral synthetic fuel that can be directly used by cars, boats, and planes.

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