Cost plunges for capturing carbon dioxide from the air

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

Canada's Carbon Engineering claims CO2 could be sequestered from the air for less than $100 a ton and converted into carbon-neutral fuel for existing vehicles. This unit would be one of several that would collectively capture 1M tons of Carbon dioxide per year.

In a new study, researchers have developed a less cost-efficient way to extract the carbon dioxide from the air and make fuel for cars, trucks or planes.

"I hope it's a real change in the community's view of the technology", Keith says.

This rendering shows Carbon Engineering's proposed air contactor design.

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Until now, the cost of climate change has been all about projections.

But Herzog, who has also studied the challenges of converting carbon dioxide into fuel, remains skeptical that the numbers will work even for that initial business model. When the air-capture plant is optimized for fuel production, they were able to bring costs down to as low as $94 per tonne of CO2. This plan not only removes Carbon dioxide from the air but also uses the captured Carbon dioxide to create 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.

David Keith, a professor of physics at Harvard University and the founder of the company who led the study, said the cost is much lower than the previous estimates of about United States dollars 600 per tonne identified by the American Physical Society.

Keith explains it like a relatively straightforward process, but Carbon Engineering have been working on the problem of affordably capturing CO2 at a pilot plant in Squamish, British Columbia since 2015.

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Direct air capture technology works nearly exactly like it sounds. After 3 years, Keith and his colleagues had collected enough data to calculate the plant's efficiency-and project the costs of building a commercial scale plant with the same technology. "The question is, what do we do with all this excess CO2 in the atmosphere?" said Noah Deich, executive director and co-founder of the nonprofit Center for Carbon Removal. This is an engineering breakthrough on two fronts: A potentially cost-effective way to take Carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to fight climate change and a potentially cost-competitive way to make gasoline, diesel, or jet fuel that doesn't add any additional Carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) reported in 2016 that electrolysis using wind power could provide hydrogen at a cost of about $4.50 per kilogram. Then it's prepped for other uses by heating and other chemical reactions. If the CO2 is captured at the low end of the cost range, the company says can produce its synthetic fuels for about $1 per liter, says Steve Oldham, Carbon Engineering's CEO.

"It's very tough, and even tougher if the Carbon dioxide is from your most expensive source, which is the air", he says. Since its components are off the rack, it should be easy to scale up, Oldham said. However, keeping global warming to less than 2 degrees C (the worldwide target to avoid the most risky impacts) will likely require "negative emissions"-some way of taking lots of Carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and storing it permanently, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)". "There is a long way to go to see whether it will have any large-scale impact".

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