Direct CO2 capture machines could use ‘a quarter of global energy’ in 2100

(CarbonBrief, 22 Jul 2019) Machines that suck CO2 directly from the air could cut the cost of meeting global climate goals, a new study finds, but they would need as much as a quarter of global energy supplies in 2100.

The research, published today in Nature Communications, is the first to explore the use of direct air capture (DAC) in multiple computer models. It shows that a “massive” and energy-intensive rollout of the technology could cut the cost of limiting warming to 1.5 or 2C above pre-industrial levels.

But the study also highlights the “clear risks” of assuming that DAC will be available at scale, with global temperature goals being breached by up to 0.8C if the technology then fails to deliver.

This means policymakers should not see DAC as a “panacea” that can replace immediate efforts to cut emissions, one of the study authors tells Carbon Brief, adding: “The risks of that are too high.”

DAC should be seen as a “backstop for challenging abatement” where cutting emissions is too complex or too costly, says the chief executive of a startup developing the technology. He tells Carbon Brief that his firm nevertheless “continuously push back on the ‘magic bullet’ headlines”.

Negative emissions

The 2015 Paris Agreement set a goal of limiting human-caused warming to “well below” 2C and an ambition of staying below 1.5C. Meeting this ambition will require the use of “negative emissions technologies” to remove excess CO2 from the atmosphere, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

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CarbonBrief, 22 Jul 2019: Direct CO2 capture machines could use ‘a quarter of global energy’ in 2100