Commercial Success of CO2 Direct Air Capture Technology Will Hinge on Reutilization

Published on 
January 6, 2024

Driven in large part by a string of significant news headlines, enthusiasm for Direct Air Capture technology has seemingly exploded in just the past few months. 

Things heated up this past summer when the U.S. Department of Energy committed $1.2 billion to build the first two commercial DAC plants in the country. This was followed in early November by BlackRock investing $550 million in Occidental Petroleum’s DAC plant in Texas. Shortly thereafter, Heirloom Carbon Technologies opened the first commercial facility to capture CO2 and store it underground using DAC. 

These are just some of the recent multi-million-dollar financial commitments from government and private markets that have increased awareness of DAC as another tool in the climate fight toolbox. However, DAC continues to be portrayed primarily as a means for capturing, storing, burying, sequestering, and altogether removing CO2. Thus far, little attention has been given to DAC’s ability to also make CO2 available for reuse by the many businesses that need it, alleviating very real supply chain challenges and helping with reducing dependency on fossil fuels. In certain countries, significant funds that could be made available for DAC and CO2 utilization, have instead been invested in less sustainable practices, like Biomass or CCS. 

CO2 capture technology has been around for some time. Historically, however, captured CO2 was generated by pollutive, fossil-fuel industry processes known as point source capture. Recent studies found that the entire process of capturing 1 ton of CO2 at an oil refinery and transporting it to end users can result in the emission of 1.5 tons of CO2 back into the atmosphere. This equates to a 50% increase in total emissions by the capture and transportation process. 

On the other hand, DAC pulls CO2 from the ambient air, as opposed to point source capture at oil refineries, fertilizer plants, and other large emitters, making it both an effective technology as well as a clean and sustainable source of CO2 for the industries that need it. 

Due to the negative association of CO2 with the climate challenge - the fact that we have too  much of it in our atmosphere - many are either unaware or perhaps forget that CO2 is indispensable to many industries. From vaccine and food production to beverage manufacturing or organ transport, businesses that rely on CO2 face supply chain threats and increased costs, all of which stand to threaten the ability to manufacture everything from medicines to vegetables to beer. 

DAC for CO2 reutilization is steadily emerging as a viable solution for any business that needs access to an always-available and sustainable source of CO2, like vertical farmers or greenhouse growers seeking to boost crop yield and increase food output or nascent cannabis companies seeking to establish a foothold in newly legalized markets. 

To be fair, DAC has its share of skeptics and doubters. Some see its costs as offsetting any environmental benefits. Others, like former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, remain concerned that the oil and gas industry will use DAC as a cover to continue their environmentally harmful business operations. 

As energy efficiencies improve and costs come down, DAC will enable businesses to have access to a self-generating, sustainable, and reliable source of CO2 in a manner that also benefits the environment, a result of transitioning away from fossil fuel-based production methods. 

DAC companies focused on  CO2 reutilization solutions are striving to solve real-world business problems while, at the same time, protecting and preserving the environment. It’s time for more DAC enthusiasm, not to mention support from governments and investors, to extend to this promising segment of the carbon transition story. 

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