Sucking carbon dioxide from air is cheaper than scientists thought

By Jeff Tollefson

Siphoning carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere could be more than an expensive last-ditch strategy for averting climate catastrophe. A detailed economic analysis published on 7 June suggests that the geoengineering technology is inching closer to commercial viability.

The study, in Joule, was written by researchers at Carbon Engineering in Calgary, Canada, which has been operating a pilot CO2-extraction plant in British Columbia since 2015. That plant — based on a concept called direct air capture — provided the basis for the economic analysis, which includes cost estimates from commercial vendors of all of the major components. Depending on a variety of design options and economic assumptions, the cost of pulling a tonne of CO2 from the atmosphere ranges between US $94 and $232. The last comprehensive analysis of the technology, conducted by the American Physical Society in 2011, estimated that it would cost $600 per tonne.

Carbon Engineering says that it published the paper to advance discussions about the cost and potential of the technology. “We’re really trying to commercialize direct air capture in a serious way, and to do that, you have to have everybody in the supply chain on board,” says David Keith, acting chief scientist at Carbon Engineering and a climate physicist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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