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🌳 "A Major Milestone For Direct Air Capture"

Columbia Energy Exchange

Photo by Pero Kalimero / Unsplash

Host: Bill Loveless
Guest: Dr. Julio Friedmann | Senior Research Scholar | Center on Global Energy Policy
Category: 🌳 Carbon Capture

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[2:47] “The IPCC working group […] made clear that huge amounts of CO2 removal will be necessary to hit a 1.5 degree climate target. […] And there are lots of options for co2 removal. But direct air capture has gained a lot of interest specifically, because it can carry that billet. It can do that work in a way that is intense and fast. And that's the value proposition. In the case of this plant Orca (world’s largest carbon removal plant, Iceland), it's basically a souped up version of the kind of technology that is on submarines and spacecrafts. Those use chemical compounds called solid sorbents, to strip out carbon dioxide from the air. […] And in this facility, they're using specific kinds of solids orbits, which they've put onto a filter. So basically, air blows through and the filter extracts the CO2, and then they heat it with steam heat, and that releases the CO2, which then they pump out with a vacuum and store underground forever. […] The CO2 mineralizes and becomes rock within about a month of injection. And that has been validated and verified.”

[4:26] “There's three things that Iceland's got. One of the things they've got is they've just got super abundant low carbon energy, and that is both low carbon electricity and low carbon heat. To do direct air capture, you need both. […] The other thing that they have going for them is that those sources of low carbon energy are cheap. Compared to other parts around the world Iceland has some of the lowest cost low carbon heating and electricity. The third thing they have going for them is the rocks. Iceland is nothing but a big pile of basaltic rock. […] And those are rocks […] mineralize […] CO2 very quickly. And that makes it an attractive place to store CO2.”

[7:43] “CO2 removal as a business barely exists. And we got to be sensitive to the fact that this market is very new and very young. Right now, the business model is a voluntary market, where people are prepared to pay a pretty hefty green premium to do this. And that's what we're seeing. Among their clients are 8,500 pioneers. And pioneers are people who have gone on their website and bought a subscription. […] And those subscriptions have allowed them to build this plant. In addition to that, they are now getting to the point where they are nailing down larger corporate customers to make larger commitments, but it's still a voluntary market. Ultimately, for the CO2 removal market to scale, it has to increasingly become a compliance market. It has to be something which people pay for because it's an obligation.”

[8:49] “The costs are coming down. And the way the costs come down is two fold. One of them is they innovate. And one of the nice things about this plant is they have evolved their technology from their last one to be more physically intense, to use less materials, to be more efficient. And that has in fact lowered the cost. The other way that you lower the cost is by scaling up. And their approach is a modular one. There are many direct air capture companies out there, which have different strategies. Climeworks has a strategy in which they mass produce modules. And that modular mass production is what gets the cost down in the same way that say that has worked for wind turbines and for solar panels and for batteries and LEDs.”

[12:00] “Conventional carbon capture technology has seen a 50% cost reduction in the past 10 years. And that was with relatively modest investment. And we will see it decrease 50% again in the next 10 years, possibly faster if we invest more. The same thing is true for direct air capture. Already, we have seen wild reductions in the cost compared to where they started, but we are on track for many, many cost reductions. […] Right now at $800 a ton […] it's not relevant for a lot of people. Most people are not prepared to pay that much money. Most airlines are not prepared to pay that sum to decarbonize their flights. But once it gets below $200 a ton, it's a different ballgame. At that point, it is totally policy relevant because Canada has a $170 carbon tax, Norway has a $220 carbon tax. At that point, it's completely in the range of what people are already paying for and already doing.”

[13:55] “It is helpful to break things into two categories. One of them is a reduction, which is conventional mitigations. That is reduction of emissions through efficiency gains, reduction of emissions through displacing fossil fuel power generation with renewable power generation, reduction through electrifying vehicles with zero carbon electricity, all those things reduce emissions. Direct air capture is not meant to be that stuff. It's meant to go into a completely different category, which is removal. And in point of fact, today, we do not know how to reduce 20% of our emissions. We have a clear line of sight to 80%. It's really hard, it's pricey, it's going to take a lot of building and energy and policy to get that 80%. But we literally know how to do it and we don't know how to do the last 20% at all. So instead [DAC] looks like […] a vacuum cleaner. The other technologies are cleaning up your room and picking stuff up off the floor. But at the end of the day, you have to vacuum. There's some stuff you can't get by conventional mitigation. And that irreducible fraction, hopefully will get smaller over time, but direct air capture is for that. […] And in that context, it doesn't really compete with a lot of things. It's meant to be the safety valve, it's meant to be the thing that gets us out of the hardest to fix parts. And so it's not supposed to be a substitute for some other action. It's meant to be a complement to all the other actions. That's what makes the market part so hard, because there isn't a market for that yet. That's why it's a voluntary market today.”

[18:27] “Iceland is kind of a special place, but it's not the only place. There are a lot of places in the world where you have low cost, renewable heat and electricity opportunities. Places like Rajasthan, India, Chile, Kenya has great geothermal resources. Ethiopia has great geothermal and solar resources. There's places around the world, like the Shetland Islands, which have terrific wind resources. And in some cases, you would want to harness that kind of clean energy, for other purposes, to make green hydrogen or to heat homes. But for some of these more remote markets, there's an opportunity to build in a new way that creates wealth and opportunity for really deeply disadvantaged countries. So one can imagine not just doing this in Iceland, but doing it across the global south, and using that as a pathway to balance prior inequities, where in effect, the global north pays money to the global south, and creates wealth in those countries by helping solve a front line climate challenge.”

[24:43] “One that I'm a big fan of is just straight up procurement. The government buys all kinds of stuff, including waste management services and environmental remediation services. They absolutely could, if they wanted to, buy 2 million tons a year of CO2 removal. […] And procurement is an option that has supported every clean energy and advanced technology we've ever had, whether it's flat screen TVs, or semiconductors on one side, or fuel cells and solar panels and wind blades and LEDs. Again, the government bought at very high premiums, those technologies for years and established supply curves and contracting mechanisms and all kinds of other things. So procurement is one that's not on a lot of people's radars, but I think is ripe for action and things that a country like the US could certainly consider.”

Rating: ⚡⚡⚡⚡

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify
🕰️ 29 min | 🗓️ 09/14/2021
✅ Time saved: 27 min

Additional Links:
Article: “The world’s biggest carbon-removal plant switches on” (The Economist)