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The US government is rolling the dice on direct air capture | Podcast

Direct air capture and carbon sequestration – is it viable and scalable?

The U.S. Department of Energy announced in late August that it would be investing $1.2 billion in two direct air capture or DAC facilities. Direct air capture technology, which uses either chemical media (such as a liquid solvent or solid sorbents) or physical processes involving filters to remove C02 directly from the atmosphere. Carbon capture technologies - that capture CO2 at emissions point sources, like power plants or steel making - is also an area the DOE will be supporting for demonstration projects.

Some environmentalists have sharply criticized the Biden administration for providing financial support for DAC and CCS technologies, arguing not only is the technology expensive and unproven, but that it serves as a false flag mechanism by the oil and gas industry to sanction them to continue emitting greenhouse gases.

So should the government be investing billions in these technologies? Can CCS and DAC play a role in decarbonizing hard to abate sectors? To answer these questions and more, guest host Amy Myers-Jaffe steps in for regular host Ed Crooks to anchor the show this week. Amy is Director of NYU’s Energy, Climate Justice and Sustainability Lab. She’s enlisted two Energy Gang regulars and climate modelling experts to explore the world of carbon capture: Emily Grubert, Associate Professor of Sustainable Energy Policy at the Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame, and Robbie Orvis, Senior Director of Modelling and Analysis at the climate thinktank Energy Innovation.

Emily explains the challenges and viability of direct air capture as a technology, while Robbie outlines the modelling that implicates the oil industry in pushing for carbon capture; is it to prolong the lifespan of fossil fuel technologies?

It’s an episode packed with science and analysis, as well as an in-depth look the socio-political implications of initiatives such as DAC and CCS. There’s discussion around NIMBYism, and concern of local communities around the environmental impact of the projects proposed by the DOE.

How currently available incentives are structured raises another issue — they incentivize the capture of maximum CO2 for sequestration but neglect to account for how much greenhouse gas is invested in the capture process. This invites operations that can produce large amounts of CO2 to do so as they can more easily remove it from flue gas streams due to higher concentrations resulting from the use of fossil fuels.

The team wrap up the show by discussing the point that energy sectors we're dealing with – including cement, steel, and various chemical productions – are mostly old, often outdated. So, is it more feasible to create a billion-dollar investment to build CCS plants on the backends of these facilities, or to invest in newer, greener technologies and start afresh? As more sustainable methods become available, the relevance and usefulness of CCS must continually be re-evaluated. It’s all here on this week’s episode.

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