A Canadian tech company is capturing carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere to produce ultra-low carbon fuels. Carbon Engineering's technology captures dispersed CO2 emissions and can then provide pure CO2 at point of demand for industrial use.
Their CO2 recycling plant combines carbon dioxide with hydrogen split from water to form hydrocarbon fuel, and Bill Gates is one of the investors backing the venture.
Capturing CO2 allows emissions to be managed and decreased, and employed at a global scale this technology breakthrough could reverse atmospheric concentrations of CO2.
However, the low-risk, chemical-based CO2 air capture system is a long-way off meaningful, let alone global, scale. One calculation was that Carbon Engineering’s planned system only has the capacity to capture 450 tonnes of CO2 each year, which would barely cover the carbon emissions of 33 average Canadians. But the tech company, headed by a Harvard physics professor, claims their system could be scaled up to 20,000 times to make it more practical.
Engineering the atmosphere is innovative, but I am skeptical as to how and when this could reach the scale of reversing the concentrations of CO2 in our atmosphere. As a cynic, and as a forest researcher, it appears to me that this technology's carbon absorption is performing the same function as trees. But I suppose this approach could be employed in conditions unable to host forests, such as icy plains and deserts.
Climate experts say negative emissions technologies merit more attention. The National Academies of Sciences described direct air capture as “an immature technology” and called on the government to invest in research “to improve methods of carbon dioxide removal and disposal at scales that would have a significant global climate impact”. “Scientists are increasingly convinced that we are going to need large scale removal systems to fight climate change,” says Noah Deich, who recently started the Berkeley, California, nonprofit Center for Carbon Removal. “I’m excited about direct air capture. It could be a really important technology to add to the portfolio.” Evidence is mounting that even a rapid buildout of low-carbon energy sources like solar and wind won’t keep global temperatures from rising beyond the 2C limit to which governments have agreed.