Scientists say cost of sucking carbon from thin air could tumble

Scientists say cost of sucking carbon from thin air could tumble

Jan Wurzbacher, a founder of Climeworks, said more and more governments are likely to jack up penalties on carbon emissions to limit floods, storms and rising seas in coming years, making the technology more viable.

It costs Climeworks about $600 United States a tonne to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

"At Carbon Engineering, we now have the data and engineering to prove that DAC can achieve costs below $100 (U.S.)", he said.

Someday, the gasoline you buy might trace its heritage to carbon dioxide pulled straight out of the sky rather than from oil pumped out of the ground. That would be competitive in California, where low carbon fuel standards to cut pollution from cars and trucks mean high prices.

In an article published Thursday in the peer-reviewed journal Joule, Carbon Engineering outlines what it calls direct air capture in which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere through a chemical process, then combined with hydrogen and oxygen to create fuel.

Because the plant now uses some natural gas, by the time the fuel it produces has been burned it has released a half-tonne of carbon dioxide for every tonne removed from the air.

Carbon Engineering acknowledges that their work isn't going to end global warming, but they say it could help bridge the gap between today's economy and its reliance on fossil fuel and a future economy powered by sustainable energies. Sequestration of carbon captured from the air would amount to a net reduction of CO2 in the atmosphere, known as negative emissions.

Set up in 2009 with funding from Microsoft's Bill Gates and Canada oil sands financier Norman Murray Edwards, their pilot plant has been running since 2015, capturing about one tonne of Carbon dioxide per day.

"If these aren't renewable fuels, what are?" said David Keith, professor of applied physics at Harvard University, lead author of the paper and principal in Carbon Engineering. The study concludes it would cost between $94 and $232 per ton of captured carbon dioxide, if existing technologies were implemented on a commercial scale.

The company envisions building large-scale plants near wind and solar facilities, which will provide clean energy to enable the carbon capture process, he said.

Following successful tests at the pilot plant, Carbon Engineering is now planning to build a larger facility to sell fuels.

Oldham said he's in talks with oil and natural gas companies interested in using his fuel in markets with carbon restrictions.

"What we've done is build a (direct-air capture) process that is-as much as possible-built on existing processes and technologies that are widespread in the world", Keith told The Atlantic.

"It'd be such a great solution-if it were real", MIT Energy Initiative senior researcher Howard Herzog, who coauthored the study that found costs could top $1,000 a ton, said at the time. "By making the fuel carbon neutral, the entire transportation sector can become carbon neutral without changing all of the infrastructure - we don't all have to get a new auto, we don't have to replace every gas station with an electric grid for charging".

Centuries of unchecked human carbon emissions also mean that atmospheric carbon dioxide is a virtually unlimited feedstock for transformation into new fuels.

The process is electricity-intensive, and the steep decline in wind and solar energy is as critical to the company's business model as the success in driving down the cost of direct carbon capture, Dr. Keith said. The market will get a further boost as the Canadian government and US states adopt clean fuel standards that will provide incentives for marketers to purchase low-carbon alternatives. That'll take about 2 1/2 years, said Oldham.

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