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The Challenges with Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) Technologies

Published: February 29, 2024 by

As companies face increasing pressure to take climate action, many industries are implementing initiatives to reduce emissions. Unfortunately, for some industries reducing emissions to zero is not possible, making carbon offsets a viable tool to support emissions targets. While new emission reduction and removal technologies are being developed, offsets from nature-based solutions – like those offered by The Climate Trust – are both effective and relatively inexpensive.  Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) strategies that remove carbon dioxide (CO2) directly from the atmosphere present a promising opportunity to compliment nature-based solutions, but unfortunately, these new technologies face many challenges and criticisms due to costs, energy demands and scalability.  One example is Direct Air Carbon Capture and Storage (DACCS), a nascent CDR technology that has the potential to reduce atmospheric carbon levels.  DACCS uses a series of chemical reactions to pull CO2 out of the air and store it deep underground.

Capturing CO2 from the air is the most expensive and energy intensive application of carbon capture. With price tags ranging from 600 to 1,000 USD per ton, DACCS removals have limited availability and are cost-prohibitive for offset buyers. With the enormous financial requirements of DACCS, cutting emissions today is more energy efficient and cheaper than removing those same emissions from the atmosphere in the future.

Another hurdle for DACCS systems is that they must be powered by large amounts of carbon-free energy to be economically and environmentally sensible, and powering DACCS systems on renewables is expensive and inefficient. Capturing just one ton of CO2 via DACCS requires between 2,000-2,4000kWh/tCO2, or about 20% of the average U.S. household energy consumption. Presently, only 21% of energy generated in the U.S. comes from renewable energy sources, 60% still comes from fossil fuels. Using renewable energy to power DACCS becomes more attractive as decarbonization increases. In regions where new power plants are fueled by coal and natural gas, siphoning low-carbon power to run DACCS is less effective than using the same low-carbon power to replace new coal and natural gas power plants. Low-carbon power is more efficient and cost-effective when used to replace emissions from high-carbon power plants or vehicles. With these costs in mind, under ambitious mitigation scenarios, DACCS will become practical and scalable by 2050 at the earliest.

Carbon removal technologies, like DACCS, need to be part of the climate change conversation. Presently, nature-based solutions and emissions reductions are significantly cheaper, more readily available, and scalable when compared to DACCS, and deliver far more significant climate impacts. Nature-based solutions also provide environmental, financial, and cultural benefits to people and communities not possible with technologies like DACCS. But achieving net zero targets is dependent on continued investment and research into DACCS and building this new technology for future use. Supporting technologies, efforts, and projects that decrease emissions significantly across all sectors will allow for a future where scaling up DACCS is practical for reaching net zero targets. If global emissions continue at the same rate, it will take considerable money, energy, and resources to capture enough carbon to meet climate goals. The success of DACCS as a tool to reach climate targets is highly dependent on the mitigation efforts we make today.