Energy Department unveils record investment in ‘carbon removal’

In a groundbreaking move, the Energy Department has revealed plans to allocate up to $1.2 billion to fund two pioneering projects focused on direct air capture of carbon dioxide. This announcement marks a significant investment in what officials are terming the most substantial foray into “engineered carbon removal” in history.

The concept of direct air capture involves removing carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere, although it has yet to be implemented on a large scale. If successfully executed and economically viable, this approach could be a game-changer in the fight against climate change.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm highlighted the potential impact of this technology during a press conference call, stating that deploying it on a larger scale could significantly contribute to achieving net-zero emissions objectives. She emphasised the potential synergy between direct air capture and the continued deployment of clean energy solutions.

Project Cypress, slated for construction in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, and South Texas DAC, planned for Kleberg County, Texas, are the two pioneering ventures. Each project aims to capture up to one million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually in its initial phase. The Texas project has even more ambitious aspirations, with plans to scale up to a capacity of removing 30 million metric tons per year once fully operational.

The initiatives are projected to generate around 5,000 jobs for local workers and those previously employed in the fossil fuel industry. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards highlighted his state’s suitability for such projects, drawing attention to its experience in petrochemical manufacturing, extensive pipeline infrastructure, and geology.

This move underscores the Biden administration’s emphasis on technologies that focus on carbon dioxide capture and subsequent underground storage to combat climate change. The decision aligns with the understanding that carbon dioxide is a primary driver of global warming.

Scientists within the field generally support investing in direct air capture as a valuable tool in the climate change arsenal. Claire Nelson of Columbia University stressed the importance of pursuing various avenues to address climate change, including direct air capture, given the scale of transformation required.

While acknowledging the nascent stage of direct air capture technologies, Shannon Boettcher from the University of Oregon asserted that some investment in research and development is warranted to advance the field.

Despite the support for direct air capture, critics like Jonathan Foley of Project Drawdown caution against diverting funds from more immediate and proven climate solutions, such as energy efficiency, renewable energy sources, and emission reduction strategies. Concerns centre on the potential of carbon capture to be perceived as a deferral tactic rather than a solution addressing the root causes of emissions.

As the world grapples with the urgency of climate action, the role of direct air capture in the broader spectrum of emission reduction strategies remains an evolving topic. Established technologies like solar, wind, and batteries continue to experience rapid growth, further adding to the complex landscape of climate solutions.

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