The federal government is big on the idea of a “cancel” button on climate change.
On Thursday, the US Department of Energy said his official intention fund $3.5 billion in removal of carbon dioxide by direct air capture. The announcement signals the Biden administration’s goal of pouring billions of dollars into developing, building and maintaining giant machines to suck greenhouse gases from the sky and permanently store carbon dioxide. which is and isn’t as crazy as it looks.
“President Biden’s bipartisan Infrastructure Act funds new technologies that will not only make our zero-carbon future a reality, but help position the United States as a net zero leader while creating well-paying jobs for a workforce. transition to clean energy,” the United States said. Energy Secretary, Jennifer Granholm in a report.
The newly confirmed DOE funding was first outlined in the infrastructure bill passed last year and is part of the $6.5 billion pledged in the carbon management act. The money will be used to build four direct air capture ‘hubs’ positioned in different parts of the country.
A certain amount of carbon capture is necessary if we are to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions, and this is an “essential element” in scenarios that avoid critical thresholds of warming, according to the latest UN IPCC report. The importance of removal of carbon dioxidefound the IPCC, comes in large part from its potential role in helping undo some of the damage we’ve already done to the atmosphere as we work to eliminate emissions from hard-to-decarbonise industries like cement and fuel manufacturing. ‘steel.
Without any removal of carbon dioxide– that he grows up more trees, floor storage, direct air intake or something else — climate change mitigation becomes much more difficult. And while it’s unclear exactly how much carbon we need, estimates range between one and ten metric gigatons of CO2 worldwide per year.
By comparison, the United States issued more than 5.2 gigatons of CO2 in 2021. Each of the four newly funded regional centers will, in theory, draw a minimum of one million metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere every year – a total of less than 1/1000th of our national annual emissions.
Even though this is only a fraction of what we emit, this figure is still quite an ambitious goal, given the current state of carbon dioxide removal. Direct air capture is a relatively new technology is beautiful expensive to sow for the amount of profits collected. Proposed US hub development (exact technology and plans for these facilities do not yet exist) will consume almost 10% of Biden 2022 budget proposal for climate change, by absorbing money 100 times more efficiently than greenhouse gases.
The largest existing CDR facility is Orca’s direct air capture plant in Iceland, which was commissioned last fall to great marching band. Despite the hype, the Orca plant currently only sequesters 4,000 metric tons of CO2, a fraction of what the four US hubs would theoretically pull from the air, and the equivalent of less than the annual emissions of just 800 cars. . And it’s quite expensive to run: Orca owners aim to run the plant at a cost of $100 per ton of CO2 removed from the air. While other ongoing projects have promised a cheaper return, the technology is still so new that we don’t know if removing CO2 from the air will ever be economically feasible, which means the proposed US hubs could consume a lot of money.
To be fair, we’re probably going to have to invest big in the transition to renewable energy, whichever way we go about it: one analysis estimates that the United States will have to spend $4.5 trillion to grid transition to renewables. But in the most fairy-tale scenario: in which $3.5 billion in DOE funding actually covers the full cost of finding and building (not to mention running) four direct air capture centers , which seriously absorb all the promised CO2, offsetting all US emissions using the technology would still cost at least $50 billion more than switching to renewables.
The US government has already banked on carbon capture projects that did not paywhile emerging issues in the reliability of CO2 transport and storage could have implications for direct air capture hubs. Moreover, there is always the possibility that the promise of carbon removal becomes militarized by industry and big tech as a way to maintain or even increase their emissions.
We need some kind of carbon capture if we are to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. But direct air capture technology is still in its infancy, and it absolutely cannot work on its own without other larger investments in climate change mitigation like, say, a carbon-free energy network.
We know do not burn fossil fuels is a guaranteed way to mitigate climate change. And we know that we need alternative and renewable energy and transportation long-term strategies. Let’s hope the massive carbon voids don’t become the focus of our national climate strategy.
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