October 5th, 2018 by Steve Hanley
Lots of people believe all this global warming and climate change stuff is nothing to worry about. When the world finally gets down to the real nitty gritty — when Florida sinks below the waves, for example — humanity will “science its way” out of the situation thanks to some bold new technology. One such possibility is direct air capture — a process that removes carbon from the atmosphere so it can be sequestered or turned into carbon neutral fuels.
Carbon Engineering, a corporation based in Canada, has built a demonstration facility for its direct air capture technology. Based on its experience to date, it has put together a peer reviewed report published in scientific journal Joule that claims the cost of removing carbon directly from the atmosphere can be as low as $94 a ton.
The objection we hear from climate deniers all the time is that doing anything about the problem of global warming will cost far too much money. That argument only makes sense if one assumes all the results of a changing climate — massive migrations, famine, rising sea levels, and extinction of most plants and animals currently living — have no economic cost. As absurd as that assumption is, it is now the default position of the United States government.
And truth to tell, even nations that say they take climate change seriously are doing far too little to prevent the inevitable from happening. If we are going to “science our way” out of the looming global catastrophe, we should have started 50 years ago, a fact that will be made forcefully by the 6th IPCC climate change report when it is published on October 8.
Steve Oldham, CEO of Carbon Engineering, tells CleanTechnica in an e-mail,
“We’re all expecting this IPCC report to outline both immense opportunities and challenges of holding to 1.5 C. At Carbon Engineering, we’ve developed two tools to address climate change: Direct Air Capture technology that can pull carbon dioxide from the air, which can then be synthesized into clean fuels or permanently sequestered. The former case helps reduce emissions from transport, and the latter case can be used for ‘Carbon Dioxide Removal’.
“These tools can be implemented now with minimal disruption and infrastructure turnover, alongside the many other options essential to limit temperature growth. More aggressive commitments and policies are needed to drive the full solution set into market. If we get that right, we’ll all be better off in a clean energy low-emission future.”
The company’s proprietary process creates a closed loop in which the only major inputs are water and energy. The output is a stream of pure, compressed CO₂. “Our DAC technology has been proven and is now being scaled up into commercial markets. Individual DAC facilities can be built to capture one million tons of CO₂ per year each, which is equivalent to the annual emissions of 250,000 average cars,” the company says. The Carbon Engineering process utilizes an aqueous solution of potassium and oxy hydroxide coupled with a calcium caustic recovery loop.
Carbon capture has been the subject of much debate but the discussion has lacked specifics. Working with an independent consulting firm, Carbon Engineering now has actual data about what its carbon capture process will cost.
“When carbon dioxide is delivered at 15 MPa, the design requires either 8.81 GJ of natural gas, or 5.25 GJ of gas and 366 kWh of electricity per ton of CO2 captured. Depending on financial assumptions, energy costs, and the specific choice of inputs and outputs, the levelized cost per ton CO2 captured from the atmosphere ranges from $94 to $232 per ton of carbon dioxide.”
Let’s not get carried away here. Even at $94 a ton, the cost of carbon capture will be staggeringly high. Of course, some of the cost could be offset by selling fuels made from the captured carbon, but there’s no getting around the fact that cooling the planet is going to be expensive. The only consolation is that the cost of doing nothing will be much, much higher.
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