Welcome to the latest "Carbon Removal Dialogue," a feature on the Center For Carbon Removal blog where we ask experts to share their thoughts on important questions related to carbon removal. We've consolidated the responses into a single post (below) -- and please share your thoughts in the comments section as well!
This time, the question pertains to direct air capture -- i.e. the range of techniques that sequester carbon from the ambient air (check out our fact sheet for more information on these technologies).
Thanks to all of the experts that have responded to our question, and without further ado, our direct air capture dialogue!
Professor - Harvard University
Executive Chairman - Carbon Engineering
A federal low carbon fuel standard with simple technology-neutral rules.
To provide the greatest short-term impacts on the deployment of direct air capture, the federal government should recognize that carbon management (ie. conventional carbon capture and storage) cannot exclusively benefit coal. This includes removing riders that preclude funding to support other technologies capable of closing the carbon loop. The EPA could extend the clean air act to allow power plants to take credit for sequestration from DAC. This will enable power plants that cannot otherwise decarbonize to explore options that allow them to stay in business. Lastly the government should also incentivize processes that remove and recycle CO2 for commercial processes for DAC.
In the near term, federal policy could: i) level the playing field between air captured CO2 and fossil-fuel derived CO2 by providing subsidies or credits for superior carbon lifecycle emissions that account for recovering carbon from the atmosphere; ii) provide additional research funding into air capture R&D initiatives, along with other areas of carbon removal, which have historically been unable to secure grants; and iii) ensure air capture is deployed in a manner that leads to sustainable net-negative emissions pathways in the future, within the framework of near-term national emissions reductions, and securing 2°C-avoiding emissions trajectories.
Chief Technology Officer
It is worth noting that there is essentially no public support for air capture but 10's of billions for flue gas capture. That this is in spite of the fact that both the IPCC in their 2013 assessment and the US National Academy in their recent report on geoengineering both acknowledged that one cannot address the climate change without CDR from the atmosphere. They finally acknowledged the flawed analysis of the climate threat that has been the basis for our policy till now. The flaw being that one thought one could address the climate threat by a combination emissions reductions , renewable energy use increase,and conservation efforts because we mistakenly thought the CO2 we emitted would stay in the atmosphere for a relatively short time -under 50-100 years, instead of the 500 and above years we now know a significant portion stays in the atmosphere. The wrong focus of the efforts are accompanied by a flawed Federal Policies. Of course number 1 is no Federal R&D support and no acknowledgement of this change by DOE or the fedral government in a Policy sense. At a more detailed level the Life Cycle Analysis used is focused on Avoided Carbon,reduced emissions from power plants , which does not solve the climate threat. This LCA is used in allocating carbon tax credits and in the carbon markets. To show how distorted this is one can take CO2 out of Federally owned domes of naturally sequestered CO2 , pipeline it to Texas and possible put 1/2 back underground while pushing oil out that when burned with release additional CO2 and get a Tax Credit for the stored CO2 that was stored to begin with. One needs an LCA that is based upon the net removal from the atmosphere , negative carbon. The major other advantage of CDR from fossil fuel plant cleanup is that air capture can be done anywhere and thus where the carbon can be both removed,used , and sequestered with the use even making the sequestration profitable. This location flexibility is an important attribute of air capture and needs to be enabled by being able to offset emissions in one place by removal in a different place.
Thus the three areas for public action are:
- Public funding of CDR technology development
- Use LCA that is based upon negative carbon instead of avoided carbon
- Allow offsetting in addressing CDR for carbon credits and EPA compliance
Business Development Manager
Any specific indication that the federal government is really starting to tackle economy-wide GHG reductions and go all the way to deep emissions cuts would be hugely beneficial for our field. Even if the initial moves were small, the knowledge that policies will eventually reach a place where they demand deep cuts will encourage investors to think about low-carbon technologies and energy sources. That’s a world where we think direct air capture has an increasingly important role to play.
What the direct air capture field seems to need most urgently is demand for zero-emission concentrated CO2. To address this need, a policy instrument similar to a Renewable Portfolio Standard could work wonders -- if countries/states mandated that an increasing fraction of their emissions be offset through direct air capture, it would create a bankable demand driver that would stimulate further investments in technology research and development.