Friday, June 24, 2011

Bright Spots for Direct Air Capture

Proponents of direct air capture (DAC) technology have been back on their heels in the wake of a recent report by the American Physical Society (APS), which estimated the cost of DAC at approximately $600 per metric ton of CO2 (compared to $80/tCO2 for conventional CCS). Two new developments offer glimmers of hope. First, the prestigious Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), based in the UK, has released a policy statement in support of air capture. In contrast to the APS, IMechE considers that, "In the context of the margins of uncertainty of both, the costs of air capture and CCS emissions capture appear to be potentially of broadly similar magnitude." IMechE calls for more research on DAC and the development of facilitative policy mechanisms.

Second, in the US, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has signed off on the Barrasso bill, which would set up federal prizes to reward breakthroughs in DAC technology (see Additional Information on Barrasso Direct Air Capture Bill, 4/15). The CBO determined that, if enacted, the Barrasso bill would have no net budget impact. This is an important step as the bill moves forward through the Senate. To be sure, DAC faces serious obstacles in becoming an effective tool for achieving negative emissions, with high cost arguably its biggest hurdle. But support from governments and scientific establishments would help make the challenge a bit less daunting.

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