A technology that removes carbon dioxide from the air has received significant backing from major fossil fuel companies.
British Columbia-based Carbon Engineering has shown that it can extract CO2 in a cost-effective way. It has now been boosted by $68m in new investment from Chevron, Occidental and coal giant BHP. But climate campaigners are worried that the technology will be used to extract even more oil.
The quest for technology for carbon dioxide removal (CDR) from the air received significant scientific endorsement last year with the publication of the IPCC report on keeping the rise in global temperatures to 1.5C this century.
In their “summary for policymakers”, the scientists stated that: “All pathways that limit global warming to 1.5C with limited or no overshoot project the use of CDR …over the 21st century.”
Around the world, a number of companies are racing to develop the technology that can draw down carbon. Swiss company Climeworks is already capturing CO2 and using it to boost vegetable production.
Carbon Engineering says that its direct air capture (DAC) process is now able to capture the gas for under $100 a tonne.
With its new funding, the company plans to build its first commercial facilities. These industrial-scale DAC plants could capture up to one million tonnes of CO2 from the air each year.
CO2 is a powerful warming gas but there’s not a lot of it in the atmosphere – for every million particles of air, there are 410 of CO2.
While the CO2 is helping to drive temperatures up around the world, the comparatively low concentrations make it difficult to design efficient machines to remove the gas.
Carbon Engineering’s process is all about sucking in air and exposing it to a chemical solution that concentrates the CO2. Further refinements mean the gas can be purified into a form that can be stored or utilised as a liquid fuel.