DOE Allocates $3.5 Billion for Direct Air Capture Hubs

DOE Allocates $3.5 Billion for Direct Air Capture Hubs

In an attempt to scale up the amount of carbon captured directly from the air, the department of energy releases record funds.

The level of carbon dioxide or CO2 has reached a record high. It indicates that plants and oceans cannot absorb CO2 fast enough to maintain the balance in the atmosphere. The result goes beyond global warming – the excess of CO2 in the oceans increases the acidity of water and affects ocean life and threatens life on earth as a whole. The Department of Energy or DOE has released $3.5 billion to fund direct air capture hubs, especially in regions that are rich in oil and coal resources.

Direct air capture is the process of capturing carbon dioxide from the air and trapping it in the soil where it is to remain indefinitely. Currently, there are 18 operating units of DAC and collectively they remove only 10,000 metric tons of CO2 per year according to an April report. The DOE needs the DAC industry to scale and scale rapidly to maximize the amount of CO2 that is captured.

As far as the funding goes, the DOE will allot $1.2 billion to support a plan for a DAC hub that can capture at least 1 million metric tons of CO2 per year. This will require some serious R&D by ambitious startups and energy conglomerates. The program is exclusively for DAC hubs and it excludes companies that capture or reduce carbon by other means like forestation, and ocean capture.

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Should the DOE’s agenda succeed, it will be a big step forward toward the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius – the goal set in the Paris Agreement. However, it is doubtful how successful the DAC hubs will be in terms of curing the legacy pollution accumulated over the last couple of centuries. The attempt is commendable, nonetheless.

There is more to capturing carbon than just cleaning the air and reducing the greenhouse effect. CO2 is used in oil production. It is usually pulled from the ground and released back into the air in the process. The oil companies can use the CO2 captured by the DAC hubs from the air for their oil production needs. This prospect, however, is not received very well by all. 

“To allow the oil companies to participate in this government-supported enterprise is stunning and disorienting when we’re listening to Biden and DOE officials talk about their climate goals,” said John Noël, a senior climate campaigner with Greenpeace USA. The argument is that it is better to pull CO2 from the air and use it for oil production than pull it from the ground and release it into the air.

The politics, and the economics aside, the race is on. Companies and states willing to participate in the competition to draw, plan, and build the DAC hubs can send in their applications along with letters of intent to the agencies by January 24, 2023. They can win rewards of $3 million for early-stage efforts and up to $500 million for action-ready proposals. The initial fund will be capped at $1.2 billion and the rest of the amount will be released after the DOE has a better sense of things.