Focus areas for the development and commercial deployment of Direct Air Capture (DAC)
Direct Air Capture
Policy support and increased investment are critical to boosting the deployment of Direct Air Capture (DAC) over the next decade. This support should target the opportunity to reduce the costs of DAC, refine Direct Air Capture technologies, and boost global understanding of the technical and economic potential of DAC to support net-zero goals.
In the near future, it is essential to promote DAC technologies through targeted government support. At the same time, robust carbon dioxide market mechanisms and accounting frameworks that recognize and value air-captured carbon dioxide as a feedstock will help secure long-term deployment opportunities. This article discusses the areas of focus to develop and commercially deploy DAC.
Demonstrating Direct Air Capture at scale
Today’s planned large-scale DAC projects must become operational, providing essential learnings for DAC technologies and supply chains and paving the way for future projects that must follow. Facilitating early investment in Direct Air Capture facilities through capital grants and operational subsidies such as tax credits is a practical approach.
Market-based mechanisms, including emissions trading frameworks or voluntary carbon markets, may support investment in DAC deployment. However, these market-based mechanisms are unlikely to support investment at the scale and pace needed for net zero.
DAC technologies still need to receive CCUS certification within specific frameworks. Capturing carbon dioxide from the air is more expensive than capturing it from a point source. Therefore, it is necessary to support DAC capture through specific targets or support programs, separate from broader CCUS policies or programs.
Identifying and developing resources for carbon dioxide storage
Geological storage is considered vital for the potential of DAC to participate in large-scale carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere. Global carbon dioxide storage resources exceed demand, but it may take 5-10 years to identify, characterize, and develop storage sites based on data availability and location. Increased investment in carbon dioxide storage resources could impede Direct Air Capture and other CCUS applications.
A prominent role in identifying and developing carbon dioxide storage in many locations, particularly where geological resources are yet to be properly explored, will need to be played by governments.
Policy issues will include developing and publishing carbon dioxide storage atlases in which limited data is currently available.
Government Support for Carbon Dioxide Storage Infrastructure
Many areas have developed carbon dioxide storage resources catalogues, which now include the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative and Global CCS Institute’s inventory of carbon dioxide storage resources. The US Geological Survey and Department of Energy, in addition to working with other organizations and governments, offer assistance in evaluating CO2 storage resources with their technical expertise. In addition, it includes providing incentives for the commercial development of carbon dioxide storage infrastructure. This includes support for funds (including grants) or assisting with the operation like Longship integrated CCS project of the Norwegian government’s investment in the Northern Lights carbon dioxide transport and storage project.
Furthermore, we need to implement robust legal and regulatory frameworks to ensure the proper selection and operation of carbon dioxide storage sites, as well as to ensure the safe and secure long-term storage of carbon dioxide.
International agreement on DAC certification and accounting
Accepting DAC as a legitimate technology in regulated carbon markets is crucial for accurate emissions and removal tracking. Robust and transparent international certification and accounting methods are vital for facilitating the entry of Direct Air Capture.
However, several countries and regions, including the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States, along with international collaborations like the new Mission Innovation CDR mission, are actively involved in developing standards for DAC.
The current IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories do not include an accounting methodology for DAC mitigation or removal, which makes it difficult to report on DAC investment across nations.
Addressing this barrier to scaling up investment in Direct Air Capture before including DAC mitigation or removal in national reporting becomes imperative.
Assessing the role of DAC in net zero strategies
As the number of companies and countries pledged to reach net-zero goals has risen, decision-makers have shifted their attention to developing credible policy strategies and approaches to reach these goals. Few countries and businesses have produced specific strategies or methodologies for achieving their net-zero goals.
However, a key question for all will be to what extent these strategies will need to rely on DAC techniques alongside traditional pollution reduction techniques. From a global perspective, it is apparent that DAC will play a critical and very vital role in meeting net-zero targets.
The role of Direct Air Capture will vary considerably on a national or regional level since countries will follow different pathways to net zero and the balance of remaining emissions versus removals will vary based on a variety of factors, including the opportunities and challenges for direct mitigation in key sectors as well as the cost and availability of nature-based carbon removal techniques.
The IEA has emphasized the importance of immediate direct mitigation efforts several times. Using DAC as an alternative to early action or cutting emissions decisively cannot prevent or delay climate change. Direct Air Capture and other CDR approaches are part of the portfolio of technologies and measures needed to respond broadly to global climate conditions. Technology, policy, and market needs can be identified by supporting transparency and planning for the anticipated role of DAC in net-zero strategies.
Building international co-operation
The IEA Roadmap to Net Zero CO2 by 2050 pointed to the need for international collaboration and innovation. The Low International Co-operation Case points to the need for greater international cooperation to keep global carbon dioxide emissions from rising to net zero by 2050.
Cooperation among DAC technologies can assist in speeding up the adoption of these technologies, sharing knowledge and reducing duplication of research efforts. Harmonizing Life cycle assessment methods for DAC technologies might also be accomplished through international cooperation.
The Clean Energy Ministerial CCUS Initiative, Mission Innovation CDR Mission, and IEA are important international organizations and initiatives where knowledge sharing and collaboration can happen.
The Asian Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and World Bank could support investment in DAC facilities in developing economies and emerging markets in accordance with nationally determined contributions and climate goals.
Future research focus
Reducing DAC technologies’ cost and accelerating commercialization will depend heavily on innovation. Future research can concentrate on separating carbon dioxide using emerging separation technologies such as moisture swing adsorption, membrane-based separation, and electro-swing adsorption to help the development of DAC.
Further, regenerating the solvent at low to moderate temperatures, as well as advancing engineering maturity and market conditions to support the usage of renewables-based high-temperature heat, will be crucial to achieving commercial deployment of DAC.
Additionally, it is important to reduce the cost of air-captured carbon dioxide for large-scale industries to use as feedstock in synthetic fuel production. Increasing R&D spending to drive innovation in DAC technologies at a national and global level will be necessary in the near term.