Direct Air Carbon Capture Technology Set to Grow with Billions of Dollars in Funding

Published: June 30, 2022

By: Concentric Staff Writer

Direct air carbon dioxide capture technology is still in the stage of being somewhat unknown, but billions of dollars are being pumped into its research in the hopes of addressing climate change while keeping the electric grid reliable.

Last month the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) issued a notice of intent to invest $3.5 billion into direct air carbon capture technology, which refers to removing carbon dioxide from the air, transporting it and storing it underground, or using it for other purposes such as making concrete. The DOE will fund four large-scale, regional direct air capture hubs that will comprise a network of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) projects.

The program will help decarbonize the economy and innovate widespread deployment of direct air capture technologies as well as CO2 transport and storage infrastructure, officials said. The hubs will have the capacity to capture and permanently store one million metric tons of CO2 from the atmosphere annually, either from a single unit or from multiple interconnected units. The appropriation comes through the Infrastructure & Investment Jobs Act signed by President Biden which also includes $2.5 billion for carbon sequestration, $115 million in direct air capture prizes, and $310 million for carbon utilization.

“For the purposes of implementation, only projects that result in carbon dioxide removal (i.e., atmospheric capture tied to permanent sequestration out of the atmosphere) will be considered,” the DOE said in its Notice of Intent to issue the funding. “These include CO2 captured from the atmosphere that is stored via durable conversion pathways or in dedicated geologic storage. Life cycle analysis of the entire project will be used as the basis for evaluating the CO2-equivalent removal potential from the atmosphere, including all mass and energy inputs and outputs required to construct, operate, monitor, and close the facility; emissions from land use change; and long-term retention of the CO2.”

Unlike direct air carbon capture, traditional carbon capture and sequestration technology removes CO2 at the point of emission, before it is released into the air. Direct air capture will need to be deployed on the gigaton scale to achieve a net-zero emissions goal by 2050, according to the DOE. The DOE says one gigaton of subsurface sequestered CO2 is equivalent to the annual emissions from the U.S. light-duty vehicle fleet, or about 250 million vehicles driven in one year. The DOE said in its effort the agency will “also emphasize environmental justice, community engagement, consent-based siting, equity and workforce development, and domestic supply chains and manufacturing.”

The funding follows a November 2021 announcement from DOE of a “Carbon Negative Shot,” program which aims to remove gigatons of CO2 from the Earth’s atmosphere and durably store it for less than $100 per ton of net CO2 equivalent. The Carbon Negative Shot program includes other performance elements such as robust lifecycle emissions accounting that ensures emissions created when running and building the removal technology are accounted for. Additionally, technologies that advance through the program must introduce high-quality and durable storage and demonstrate the costs associated with monitoring, reporting, and verification for at least 100 years. The technology must also enable necessary gigaton-scale removal, the DOE said. The Carbon Negative Shot will include research, manufacturing, and demonstration and “will also create tailored place-based approaches that meet the needs of individual communities that could participate in or be affected by CDR,” the DOE said. The effort will include “environmental and climate justice organizations, tribal nations, labor groups, industry and academia.”

In California, direct air capture is considered necessary to meet the state’s goal of carbon neutrality. In its 2022 scoping plan, the California Air Resources Board said the technology will need to be deployed at a large scale to achieve that goal, and Governor Gavin Newsom proposed $100 million for direct air carbon capture technology in his new budget.

California is attractive for direct air capture companies due to geology that is good for storing carbon and plentiful geothermal energy to power those operations, according to a staff presentation at a March 24 California Energy Commission business meeting.

Direct air carbon capture pilot projects in California include one by Climeworks, a company that manufactures modular carbon removal machines that can be combined through stacking. For every 100 tons of carbon removed, only 10 tons are re-emitted through the process, the company says. Climeworks, which has a pilot project underway in Palm Springs, announced in April that it raised $650 million from some of the world’s largest institutional technology and infrastructure investment companies. The company, launched in 2009, said the funding will unlock its next phase of growth which will scale direct air carbon capture “up to multi-million-ton capacity and [implement] large-scale facilities as carbon removal becomes a trillion-dollar market.”

Another company, Avnos has a direct air carbon capture pilot project in Bakersfield in conjunction with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Avnos says it is commercializing the most advanced technology available to capture CO2 and produce water that is used to further drive CO2 capture, which eliminates heat consumption and reduces costs compared to other forms of direct air capture.

Another company in the direct air capture space is Heirloom, a venture backed by Bill Gates and others, which recently announced it has raised $53 million in funding. With the slogan “Our Planet Knows Best,” on its website, the company replicates natural processes by using minerals to reduce carbon and turn it to stone, a process that can be completed in days.

The company says it uses “widely available, low-cost minerals” to produce oxide that naturally binds to CO2 at ambient conditions. Then it passively exposes the minerals to the air rather than relying on energy-intensive and high-cost air contactors. The carbon is captured and processed, then injected into underground geological structures where it is permanently stored.

The system is designed to minimize second-order impacts and reduce extraction, including a looping process that recycles minerals to limit reliance on mining, use fewer resources, and decouple the carbon capture systems from fossil fuels. The systems have a small physical footprint, which leaves more space to rehabilitate and preserve fragile ecosystems to reduce competition with agriculture and urbanization, according to Heirloom.

It is clear that state and local governments view direct air carbon capture as viable with the suite of technologies being deployed at a rapid pace to meet decarbonization goals. It’s safe to say the technology is poised for growth, and a potent amount of funding, research, and development is being poured into its future.

All views expressed by the contributors are solely the contributors’ current views and do not reflect the views of Concentric Energy Advisors, Inc., its affiliates, subsidiaries, or related companies. The contributors’ views are based upon information the contributors consider reliable at the time of publication. However, neither Concentric Energy Advisors, Inc., nor its affiliates, subsidiaries, and related companies warrant the information’s completeness or accuracy, and it should not be relied upon as such.

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