How products are manufactured, shipped and sold can contribute to a company’s carbon footprint, which is the measure of the carbon-containing greenhouse gases released into the air. But what if a company could capture and scrub carbon dioxide (CO2) directly from the atmosphere to offset the company’s carbon footprint simply with the click of a mouse? It’s not some futuristic technology, but a process that is expanding called direct air capture (DAC) and carbon storage.
The interest in deploying DAC and carbon storage is growing at a rapid pace. In April 2022, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced approximately $14 million in funding for five front-end engineering design (FEED) studies to leverage existing low-carbon energy to grow DAC technology and reliable carbon storage. The new funding opportunity follows the $6.5 billion set aside in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for direct air capture and carbon dioxide storage, which includes $3.5 billion to develop four regional DAC hubs.
Aviation, shipping and agriculture are among the most difficult sectors to decarbonize, according to the DOE. The urgency to accelerate deployment of DAC highlights how environmental researchers believe the technology could help the United States meet climate and energy goals.
Understanding How Direct Air Capture Works
DAC is a form of carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technology. A common application of CCUS technology is directly from large point sources, such as a coal-fired or natural gas-fired power plant or other industrial fossil fuel combustion source. Instead of allowing the CO2 to enter the atmosphere, the CO2 produced during fuel combustion is removed from the flue gas, collected, and transported for injection deep underground, where it is permanently stored and monitored or utilized for beneficial use.
DAC does not require direct coupling to a point source of the emissions; instead, it removes CO2 directly from ambient air. This affords DAC technology one of its biggest advantages: siting flexibility. DAC technology can be placed nearly anywhere subject to permitting requirements and allows for significant flexibility to locate the DAC technology more closely to the eventual end use or sequestration location. For example, if the captured CO2 will be released into a pipeline or an underground well where it will be stored, the DAC technology can be sited near that end source.
Various industries can benefit from DAC, especially ones that are challenging to decarbonize due to the absence of a large point source of emissions. In the transportation sector, for example, it is not feasible to scrub CO2 emissions coming out of the tailpipe of internal combustion engine vehicles on the road. Instead, a DAC facility can remove CO2 from ambient air and offset the carbon dioxide that the vehicles are producing.
Developing DAC Facilities
Forty CCUS power generation projects are being developed around the world, according to the International Energy Agency. Two commercial power plants have been retrofitted with CCUS: the Petra Nova plant near Houston, Texas, and the Boundary Dam project in Saskatchewan, Canada.
Climeworks, Carbon Engineering, Global Thermostat and several other companies are using or developing DAC carbon capture technology.
What will be the world’s largest DAC plant is under development in the Permian Basin in West Texas. The initial plant is projected to be able to capture 500 kilotons of CO2 each year when it enters operation, expected in 2024. As an example of the capacity of DAC technology to support decarbonization of industries considered to be a challenge to decarbonize, it was recently announced that Airbus signed a multiyear contract with the facility for 100,000 tons per year of carbon removal. Additional large-scale DAC facilities are in various stages of development.
As the interest in DAC technology grows, some of the biggest challenges involve permitting the underground injection and sequestration sites where the CO2 will be stored permanently and the transportation infrastructure (pipelines) to move the captured CO2 to the sequestration sites. The process of obtaining the necessary permits can be time-intensive, involved and subject to various forms of opposition due to various environmental requirements.
Incentives to Accelerate DAC Projects
Funding allocated through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will help develop four large-scale, regional DAC hubs to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Funding will also be directed toward projects that can demonstrate capture processing and delivery of unused captured carbon. Funding can come in the form of cooperative agreements, and recipients can include universities, governments, national labs and nongovernmental organizations.
U.S. tax credit 45Q is also available for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) and is intended to incentivize companies to invest in the technology. The recently announced financial incentives combined with a growing interest in DAC will support industries in meeting carbon reduction targets.
Companies can position themselves to compete for federal dollars available to support clean energy solutions. Learn about how that funding will flow.