Emerging Technologies

DAC Eyed as 'Powerful Tool' on Many Fronts

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Direct air capture (DAC) is steadily growing in importance as a versatile emissions-slashing tool that can be paired with other technologies, enable innovative developments and lower costs across the board. A range of project developers, from e-fuels to geothermal, see DAC as a logical, even essential technology pairing. And on its own, renewable-powered DAC can deliver some of the highest-quality carbon offsets available. “It really is a very powerful tool,” says Robert Zeller, vice president of technology for Occidental Petroleum’s low-carbon venture arm.

Oxy is leading the way on DAC right now, building the world’s largest facility in Texas with plans for potentially dozens more. Competitors and potential partners are closely watching its progress. While the timeline for Oxy’s “DAC 1” plant has slipped a few months — largely due to “general supply chain issues” — CEO Vicki Hollub says the “slight pushout” will allow Oxy to “incorporate some new ideas into the design” that she says will lower costs and improve efficiencies in subsequent units. The first plant, now due for start-up in mid-2025, is designed to capture 500,000 tons per year of CO2; future facilities are expected to be at least twice as big. “You can’t make the technology better until you build it,” she said.

Customer Call

While Oxy’s plans are well ahead of what others have publicly disclosed, they still account for a tiny fraction of the gigatons of CO2 that would need to be removed in coming decades to avoid the worst effects of climate change. But more development opportunities could emerge soon, says Daniel Friedmann, CEO of Carbon Engineering, which is supplying the underlying technology for Oxy. “It’s only in the last six months that the technology, the partnerships and financing have come together to start the first at-scale projects so that people can actually commit to solve the problem,” Friedmann said on a panel last week at CERAWeek by S&P Global in Houston. The missing ingredient today for high-speed deployment, Friedmann says, is customers. “Unless we have those customers and those customers are compelled, we can’t bring the financing to make this happen,” he says.

Friedmann says the hard-to-decarbonize aviation sector is one industry that “really needs DAC” in the form of carbon offsets. Indeed, aerospace giant Airbus has agreed to buy a total of 400,000 tons of CO2 credits from Oxy. But other emerging sectors see DAC as a key component of their own strategies.

Powerful Pairings

E-fuel developer HIF Global last week announced a cooperation agreement with Baker Hughes to test the energy services giant’s Mosaic DAC technology for potential commercial-scale deployment. HIF aims to combine electrolytic hydrogen with captured CO2 to produce “drop-in” synthetic gasoline and methanol. It has a pilot project up and running in Chile and a “world scale” plant planned on the Texas Gulf Coast. HIF actually is testing two different DAC technologies — Colorado-based Global Thermostat agreed in 2021 to supply small-scale DAC capabilities to HIF’s Haru Oni project in Chile.

HIF Executive Director Meg Gentle tells Energy Intelligence that DAC was always part of the development plan for the remote project in Chile. While HIF can use point-source CO2 taken from third-party industrial facilities — as will likely be the case at the Matagorda County plant in Texas — DAC provides more optionality for future plants, Gentle says. It allows more control over the project timeline without having to rely on offtake agreements and CO2 transportation. “Even though there are really low-cost sources for CO2 … once we can deploy DAC, at scale and at low cost, then we can have more control over the timing of all the pieces coming together,” she tells Energy Intelligence.

Cost and Innovation

Cost reduction remains the most critical piece of large-scale DAC deployment. A report from the Global CCS Institute last year estimated that DAC capture at $137 per ton of CO2 would save the global energy system $3 trillion compared to a DAC cost of $412/ton or more. With more deployment, costs would likely fall and efficiencies would rise. But location also plays a role. Friedmann said the best regions for DAC will likely be in the US, Middle East and “parts of Asia.” Being at sea level also make a difference since the air is denser, he says. “Just 1,000 meters” can make up to a 20% difference in how efficient Carbon Engineering’s system performs, he says.

For two of the greatest cost inputs, geothermal offers some potential answers. It can provide carbon-free power to run the plant and heat to release the CO2 from the sorbent material after it is captured. Climeworks’ Orca plant in Iceland, currently the world’s largest DAC facility, runs on geothermal. Next-generation geothermal players see an opportunity. Last month, Houston-based Fervo Energy said it plans to "design and engineer a fully integrated geothermal and DAC facility,” with recent funding from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. CEO Tim Latimer noted the “natural alignment” between geothermal and DAC.

Innovation is also accelerating. The US National Energy Technology Laboratory this month announced that researchers have been successful using microwaves to “accelerate sorbent regeneration,” thereby significantly reducing the need for water and energy — one of the biggest cost inputs. “This energy savings vastly reduces consumptive water use for both water and steam, helping to make DAC technology truly environmentally friendly,” lead NETL researcher Fan Shi said.

Carbon Capture (CCS), Emerging Technologies, Mobility
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