US Department of Energy (DOE) on Thursday announcements the latest program, which emerges from the bipartisan infrastructure funding package adopted last year. In this case, the money will encourage the development of technology that we will almost certainly need, but is currently underdeveloped: capturing carbon dioxide from the air and storing it stably. The Infrastructure Act has set aside $ 3.5 billion for direct air capture, and DOE plans to use this to fund four facilities located in the United States.
The direct capture of the air was affected by a small catch-22. Most end-of-century warming scenarios suggest that we will release enough carbon dioxide over the next few decades to exceed our climate targets and therefore have to remove some of the atmosphere. This would require the development of direct air capture technologies. But there is currently no way to fund the operation of a filming facility, so the technology remains immature and its economy is poorly understood.
DOE funding has the potential to change some of that. It has a total of $ 3.5 billion to spend in the years 2022-2026. It plans to use them to fund four carbon capture and storage centers located in the United States, each with the capacity to permanently store one million metric tons of carbon dioxide. year.
Funding will handle the whole process: the facility that removes and concentrates carbon dioxide; any piping or transport hardware required to reach the place where it is used or stored; and any equipment necessary for carrying out the storage. Funding is agnostic in terms of the method used for capture and storage, mentioning that chemical capture, biomass removal and ocean sequestration are all options.
The whole project will be subject to a life cycle analysis to determine the actual capture potential of each project. This will include all materials and energy involved in the construction and operation of the facility, any emissions due to changes in land use, and the duration of carbon capture. For example, if underground storage will be used, then leakage from the storage area will be taken into account. Similarly, sequestration by chemical reactions will need to be monitored for their effectiveness, and product lifespan will need to be considered when incorporated into a product.
This call for proposals will aim to fund projects at the same time as feasibility studies and permits are obtained; another competitive evaluation will take place before things move to the design and construction phase. DOE says the projects will be assessed by indicators, including an estimated cost per tonne of CO2 processed, total processing capacity and long-term employment potential. Location will also be a major factor. The Ministry of Energy would like to have two located in regions that currently produce fossil fuels, all of them placed in areas with high geological potential for carbon storage and the four to be scattered in different regions of the country.
The current plans are for construction to begin in 2026 and operation to begin in 2029. Obviously, problems may arise due to a change of administration in the coming years. But once the sites are selected, these projects are likely to find defenders in Congress, making them more difficult to close.
Once built, the biggest challenge will be the operation of the plant. Carbon capture makes much more sense for the climate if combined with renewable energy, but the DOE does not seem to take this into account when evaluating these proposals. And the economy of direct air capture remains problematic. Various combinations of carbon taxes, materials produced by chemical reactions, including CO2and the desire for high-quality carbon offsets can help shift the balance to profitability. But so far, none of them have emerged on a large enough scale to fund many high-capacity projects like these.