Biden official announced $3.5 billion to remove carbon dioxide

Photo of two people in front of a large carbon capture machine

The federal government relies heavily on the idea of ​​the “undo” button on climate change.

The US Department of Energy announced on Thursday its official intent to fund 3.5 billion dollars in CO2 removal by direct air capture. This announcement indicates that the Biden administration aims to pour billions of dollars into developing, building and maintaining giant machines to suck greenhouse gases from the sky and permanently store carbon dioxide — which is nothing short of crazy.

“President Biden’s bipartisan Infrastructure Act funds new technologies that will not only make our carbon-neutral future a reality, but will help position the United States as a carbon-neutral leader while creating well-paying jobs for a clean energy workforce.” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm in the current situation.

The newly confirmed funding from the Department of Energy was first identified in an infrastructure bill that passed last year, and is part of the $6.5 billion pledged in the Carbon Management Act. The funds will be used to build four live air capture “hubs” stationed in various regions across the country.

some quantity Carbon capture is essential If we are to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions, a “key element” in scenarios that avoid critical thresholds for warming, according to another Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Importance CO2 removalThe IPCC has found its potential role in helping to undo some of the damage we’ve already done to the atmosphere as we work to eliminate emissions from hard-to-decarbonize industries like cement and steel.

Without any – whether it grows More treesAnd Soil Save or capture live or another thing Mitigating climate change becomes much more difficult. And while it’s not clear exactly how much carbon sequestration we need, estimates are somewhere on the scale of one to ten gigatonnes of carbon dioxide globally per year.

For comparison, the United States released more than 5.2 gigatons from carbon dioxide in 2021. Each of the four newly funded regional hubs will, in theory, achieve at least million metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year – a total of less than 1/1,000 of our national annual emissions.

Although it is a small part of what we are releasing, this number is still a very ambitious target, given the current state of CO2 removal. Live air capture is a relatively new beautiful technology Too expensive to plant About the amount of interest to be reaped. The proposed US center development (the technology and exact plans for these facilities do not yet exist) would devour approximately 10% of Biden Proposed budget for 2022 Climate change absorbs funds 100 times more efficiently than greenhouse gases.

CDR’s largest existing facility is the Orca Direct Air Capture Plant in Iceland, which was commissioned last fall big bang. Despite the hype, the Orca plant currently sequesters just 4,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide — a fraction of what the four US hubs theoretically pull out of the air, and the equivalent of less than the annual emissions of just 800 cars. It’s also very expensive to run: Orca’s owners aim to run the plant at $100 per ton of CO2 removed from the air. While other projects in the pipeline have promised a cheaper return, the technology is still so new that we have no idea if removing CO2 from the air will be economically viable – which means the proposed US hubs could consume a lot of cash. .

To be fair, we probably have to invest heavily in the renewable energy transition no matter which way we go: one analysis estimates that the US will have to spend the entirety of $4.5 trillion Converting the grid to renewable energy. But in the most imaginary scenario: $3.5 billion in funding from the Department of Energy actually covers the total cost of research and construction (not to mention operating) four DACs, which seriously absorb every promised CO2 emissions, offsetting all of the US. Emissions with technology would still be at least $50 billion more expensive than switching to renewables.

The US government has previously bet on carbon sequestration projects that It didn’t pay offWhile emergency reasons The reliability of CO2 transport and storage can have implications for direct air capture hubs. In addition, there is always a chance to realize the promise of decarbonization Armed by industry And big technology as a way to maintain or even increase its emissions.

We need some form of carbon sequestration if we are to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. But direct air capture technology is still in its infancy, and it can never stand on its own without other larger investments to mitigate climate change such as, for example, decarbonized power grid.

we know Not burning fossil fuels A foolproof way to mitigate climate change. We know that we need alternative and renewable energy and Transportation long term strategies. Let’s hope massive carbon voids do not become the centerpiece of our national climate strategy.