Removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere can be done on an industrial scale that would be economically viable, according to a new study published in Joule by Carbon Engineering.

Carbon Engineering is the Canadian company that built a pilot plant in Squamish that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and uses it to produce a synthetic “drop-in” fuel that could be used in aviation – the one transportation sector that cannot switch to electric power.

The company's largest private investor is Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and its chairman is Dan Friedmann, the former long-time CEO of Macdonald Dettwiler.

To date, atmospheric carbon capture has been deemed too expensive to be practical, because of the high energy inputs.

Those energy inputs would put the cost of atmospheric carbon capture at up to $1,000 per tonne of CO2, meaning it would be far more economic to simply reduce carbon emissions.

But in a paper published in Joule, Carbon Engineering says it has demonstrated that its engineering approach could reduce the costs to $94 to $232 per tonne.

“Until now, research suggested it would cost (US$600 per tonne) to remove CO2 from the atmosphere using DAC technology, making it too expensive to be a feasible solution to removing legacy carbon at scale,” said Carbon Engineering founder David Keith.

“At CE, we’ve been working on direct air capture since 2009, running our pilot plant since 2015, and we now have the data and engineering to prove that DAC can achieve costs below (US$100 per tonne).

“No prior research in the peer-reviewed literature provides a design and engineering cost for a complete DAC system– and this paper fills that gap.”

Carbon Engineering is proposing an industrial scale direct air capture (DAC) plant that would remove 1 million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere per year and turn it into “net-zero” fuel.

The most likely market would be in aviation – the one sector that is unlikely to ever be able to switch from fossil fuels to electric power.

Although burning the fuel would produce CO2 emissions, since it came from CO2 that was removed from the atmosphere, the fuel would be considered to be carbon neutral.

— Business in Vancouver

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