Direct air capture (DAC) systems -- essentially artificial trees that extract large volumes of carbon dioxide (CO2) directly from ambient air -- have been touted by a number of experts as a critical-yet-missing piece of the solution to climate change. In the US, however, there are still wide swaths of the population that don't believe in climate change. Do DAC systems have anything to offer to this crowd of climate deniers (disclaimer: we at the Center firmly believe that climate change is real and our response to it should be aggressive)? It turns out, DAC systems have a number of benefits that would appeal to the staunchest climate-deniers and climate-affirmers alike, explained below:
1. Energy security. DAC systems are capable of "mining the air" for raw carbon-based inputs that can then be used for fuel synthesis.* The air is the definition of what economists call a "non-rival" good -- everyone has equal access to this source of raw materials. This means that DAC-driven fuel synthesis can reduce our dependence on foreign oil and gas supplies in a sustainable and non-exploitative manner (as well the dependence of our allies throughout the world).
2. Jobs. DAC systems offer opportunities to generate large numbers of high-skilled manufacturing jobs. Advanced manufacturing holds the potential to revitalize communities across America, and DAC manufacturing could play a big role in this effort.
3. Non-climate environmental benefits. The extraction and transportation of underground hydrocarbons can be messy: Exxon Valdez, BP Deepwater Horizon, and the entire controversy surrounding natural gas fracking, just to name a few. DAC-driven fuel synthesis avoids the messy extraction and transportation steps associated with raw crude and natural gas extraction, making hydrocarbon fuels more environmentally sustainable in a local context.
4. Reduced government bureaucracy. Energy companies today spend billions of dollars on exploration for new underground oil and gas reserves, and on acquiring the myriad permits and navigating the complex regulations that surround oil and gas extraction and transportation. DAC-driven fuel synthesis eliminates much of this burden -- we just have to look to the sky to find resources -- and there are no permits required to separate CO2 from the air.
*Using DAC for fuel synthesis can provide a carbon neutral recycling technology, but only when the CO2 generated by DAC systems is sequestered do DAC systems generate net-negative carbon emissions (which is the primary focus of the Center). Nevertheless, carbon neutral fuel synthesis is highly beneficial in the fight to curtail climate change, and can help pave the way for carbon-negative DAC systems in the future.