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Governments are doing practically nothing to study the removal of carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere, but this technology could be a much cheaper form of climate protection than photovoltaic cells and other approaches getting lavish support, according to an article published today in Science.
[Early] estimates suggest that air capture will be competitive with technologies that are getting large R.&D. investments.
For example, the cost of cutting CO2 emissions by displacing carbon-intensive electricity production with roof-mounted solar photovoltaic panels can easily exceed $500 per ton of CO2. Yet even skeptics suggest that a straightforward combination of existing process technologies could probably achieve air capture at lower cost. And the fact that several groups have raised private money for commercialization suggests that there are investors who believe that it is possible to develop technologies to capture CO2 from air at costs closer to $100 than $500 per ton of CO2.
Air capture is neither a silver bullet nor a hopeless dream: it is simply another chemical engineering technology. Disputes about cost can only be resolved by developing a few air capture technologies to the point where they can be independently evaluated. Costs cannot be understood until specific processes are developed to a far greater technical depth than has been achieved to date. As with other energy technologies, it is not possible to determine the cost through small-scale university research alone. Instead, costs will only become evident with pilot-scale process development and when costing can be performed by contract engineering firms with relevant expertise.