INDIANAPOLIS — The U.S. Department of Energy announced it will award up to $1.2 billion for projects that would help directly remove carbon dioxide from the air, and employ emerging technologies that could help the U.S. neutralize greenhouse gas emissions.
Funds for two projects would, the Energy Department hopes, help the United States become a leader in a type of carbon removal method called direct air capture.
"Together, these projects are expected to remove more than 2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year from the atmosphere— an amount equivalent to the annual emissions from roughly 445,000 gasoline-powered cars," the Energy Department said in an announcement about the projects.
Direct air capture uses chemical processes that pull CO2 directly from the atmosphere at any location, making the technology more flexible than carbon capture, which is carried out directly at the point of emission.
When air moves over the chemicals, they react with and trap the CO2, making room for other air components to pass through. The most commonly used chemicals today to create those reactions are liquid solvents or solid sorbents.
Once the carbon dioxide is captured from the atmosphere, heat is applied to release it from the solvent or sorbent. From there, it can be injected deep underground for sequestration in appropriate geological formations. It can also be used to create carbon-containing products, like concrete, that prevent its release back into the atmosphere.
The Great Plains Institute, a non-profit based out of Minnesota that works to transform energy systems, identified California, Rockies and Northern Plains, Permian, Midcontinent, Gulf, Midwest, and Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes as ideal locations for this type of underground sequestration.
While researchers believe direct air capture can effectively remove harmful pollutants from the air and take up little space, it is currently the most expensive application of carbon capture technologies because atmospheric CO2 is more diluted, and less concentrated, than CO2 coming out of a power station or cement plant, so it takes more energy to run.
Two sites in Texas and Louisiana were chosen for the investment. Project Cypress will aim to capture more than 1 million metric tons of existing CO2 from the atmosphere yearly, and officials plan to store it permanently underground in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, according to the Department of Energy.
The South Texas DAC Hub will be established in Kleberg County, Texas, and develop a direct air capture facility with the goal of removing 1 million metric tons of CO2, through the use of associated saline storage site. The company Battelle will coordinate with Climeworks Corporation and Heirloom Carbon Technologies, Inc. for the plant, according to the Department of Energy.
This represents the largest investment in direct air capture technologies yet. Federal officials hope scaling up the technology helps create more than 4,800 new jobs throughout Texas and Louisiana, and that each hub will eventually remove more than 250 times more carbon dioxide than the largest direct air capture facility currently operating.
“Cutting back on our carbon emissions alone won’t reverse the growing impacts of climate change, we also need to remove the CO2 that we’ve already put in the atmosphere—which nearly every climate model makes clear is essential to achieving a net-zero global economy by 2050,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm in a statement about the projects.
Several new initiatives also aim to lower the technology's cost down to less than $100 per metric ton of CO2 equivalent within a decade.
That includes a $35 million procurement program for carbon removal credits, and funding for 14 studies throughout the country and five studies for earlier-hub projects, according to the Energy Department.
The projects are expected to kick off in late 2023, pending negotiations.