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Taking CO2 out of the air is more economical than scientists thought

By Brooks Hays
Taking CO2 out of the air is more economical than scientists thought
A rendering shows a Carbon Engineering CO2-capture-and-conversion facility. Photo by Carbon Engineering

June 7 (UPI) -- New tests involving a CO2-extraction method called direct air capture suggests pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is cheaper than scientists expected.

The latest tests and cost analysis were conducted by Carbon Engineering, a Canadian company trying to commercialize CO2-extraction technology.

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According to their research, removing a single ton of carbon dioxide from the air could cost anywhere from $94 to $232, depending on the combination of current methods employed.

A similar company in Europe, Climeworks, has already built two carbon capture facilities. The first can pull 900 tons of CO2 from the air each year for use in greenhouses. Their newly completed second facility can capture 50 tons per year, which the company plans to bury in basalt formations deep beneath Earth's surface.

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Climeworks estimates it costs them $600 to remove a ton of CO2. That's also what scientists with the American Physical Society estimated it would cost when they conducted a similar study in 2011.

The British Columbia-based company has been working to bring down costs. The company detailed the results of their latest cost-cutting efforts in the journal Joule.

Its direct air capture technology uses large fans to blow air through a solution of potassium hydroxide. The solution reacts with CO2 to produce potassium carbonate. The potassium carbonate is converted into a calcium carbonate pellet, which when heated yields CO2.

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The CO2 could be pumped into reserves underground, but Carbon Engineering wants to convert the CO2 into fuel. When configured for this purpose, the company was able to bring down the costs of pulling carbon from the air.

If the company can qualify for government subsidies, the price of recycling CO2 could be cheaper than the price of carbon credits under California's cap-and-trade program.

"This is completely doable industrial technology," Klaus Lackner, leader of Arizona State University's Center for Negative Emissions, told Nature. "We just need to begin, set up markets and see what happens."

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Carbon Engineering acknowledges that their work isn't going to end global warming, but they say it could help bridge the gap between today's economy and its reliance on fossil fuel and a future economy powered by sustainable energies.

"This isn't going to save the world from the impacts of climate change, but it's going to be a big step on the path to a low-carbon economy," David Keith, a Harvard Professor of Applied Physics and founder of Carbon Engineering, told National Geographic.

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