Climate change can suck it.
Direct Air Capture
President Joe Biden’s administration will fund a massive carbon removal project to suck the greenhouse gas straight out of the atmosphere using what’s known as direct air capture — the first time the US has made a major investment in the controversial technology.
White House senior advisor Mitch Landrieu called it “the largest investment in engineered carbon removal in history,” as quoted by The Washington Post.
To commence the project, the US Department of Energy will spend a formidable $1.2 billion to construct two direct air capture plants, the agency announced on Friday, adding to a total of around 130 of these facilities in the works worldwide.
“These projects are going to help us prove out the potential of these next-generation technologies so that we can add them to our climate crisis fighting arsenal,” energy secretary Jennifer Granholm told reporters, per WaPo.
One plant will be built in Texas by Occidental Petroleum, and another by research and development nonprofit Battelle in Louisiana. Once completed, they’ll be the largest direct air capture plants in the world, according to the Energy Department.
The real question, though, is whether the tech will ever be able to scale up enough to make a difference.
Many environmentalists aren’t convinced that direct air capture will be an effective way to combat climate change, and some argue that it will only distract from more important issues.
“It’s useful to give them an excuse for not ever stopping oil,” said former Vice President and noted climate activist Al Gore at a recent Ted Talk, as quoted by The New York Times. “That gives them a license to continue producing more and more oil and gas.”
But desperate times call for desperate measures, and the tech has gained significant momentum in recent years; a 2022 report from the International Energy Agency identified direct air capture as a “key technology” for achieving net zero carbon emissions.
Others don’t necessarily disagree with Gore’s stance, but argue that both approaches can still work hand in hand — and that we’re going to need all the solutions we can get.
“There is no scenario for meeting our climate goals that does not involve both the phaseout of fossil fuels and carbon dioxide removal on a massive scale,” Michael Gerrard, an environmental law expert at Columbia University, told the NYT.
“The technologies are still in their relatively early stage, but we’re going to need a lot of them, and we have to get going.”
It’s unclear what the direct air capture plants will do with the removed carbon, or even how much carbon they will remove, though energy officials promised it wouldn’t be injected back into the ground to extract more oil.
WaPo notes that a similar facility in Iceland vacuums up around 4,000 tons of carbon per year — a drop in the pond compared to the nearly 37 billion metric tons emitted last year.
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