This is CDR is an ongoing series of online events to explore the range of carbon dioxide removal solutions that are currently in development. This week, we take a look at direct air capture–and its economic feasibility–with Dr. Habib Azarabadi from the Arizona State University’s Center for Negative Carbon Emissions.
In past episodes of This is CDR, we’ve looked at some carbon-removal solutions (enhanced rock weathering, biochar) that work by accelerating existing processes in nature. Direct air capture is, well, more direct: it uses chemical solvents to capture carbon dioxide directly from the air. The captured CO2 can then be sequestered, or used to create carbon-neutral fuel.
Interesting as the R&D side of CDR can be, it’s all academic unless we can actually scale it, and to do that, we need to make it cost a lot less. Dr. Azarabadi’s research focuses on how we might be able to do that.
As it happens, the world’s largest DAC plant just opened in Iceland this week; it’ll remove 4000 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere each year. While this is a big milestone and it’s great to see CDR tech making headlines, global CO2 emissions are now around 31 billion tons per year. That’s a big gap to fill, and interestingly, Dr. Azarabadi argues that rather than focusing on large-scale infrastructure like the plant in Iceland, we could close the gap faster by pursuing mass production, treating DAC units as a consumer good. The price of solar panels has dropped by orders of magnitude since they first came on the market in the ’70s, thanks to lots of innovation spurred by market competition. The same could happen with DAC.
Dr. Azarabadi shares an observation from his colleague Dr. Klaus Lackner, who notes that a commercial car engine converts fuel to energy at 1/100th the cost per kilowatt of an industrial power plant. That’s because every power plant is a custom-built design, so we don’t see the benefits of mass production. If we pursue smaller-scale DAC, we could tap into those benefits and scale up our carbon removal rate much faster. It’s an exciting possibility–please check out the video above to learn all about it, and be sure to check back next week for more This is CDR!