You likely don’t have to be told that our planet is facing a climate crisis— it’s old news. Nearing the point-of-no-return, many companies, organizations, and governments are scrambling to find solutions to this larger-than-life issue. Innovation on the carbon sequestration front is crucial, and a new technology known as Direct Air Capture (DAC) is gaining a lot of attention for its potential. But how effective and accessible is DAC, really?
In recent years, companies such as Climeworks of Switzerland and Carbon Engineering of Canada have developed machines that use technology similar to that of particulate matter scrubbers and filters. Air is taken in and carbon dioxide is separated out of it through special filters that capture it or through fluid solutions that “pull it out.” Carbon dioxide is then stored permanently underground or converted into gasoline with no additional carbon added to the atmosphere in the process. These machines are powered by sustainable energy sources such as solar and wind power, and a majority of the carbon collected from them is permanently removed from the atmosphere, making these machines efficient in their function.
However, this technology is incredibly expensive, making it extremely difficult to increase the amount of those in use. This means that even though they’re ideal in many ways in the battle against CO₂, they’re hardly accessible at all. For the same reason many homeowners do not purchase solar panels for their properties, many governments and corporations are reluctant to invest in these machines in order to compensate for their emissions. Currently, they’re simply not efficient enough to be considered worth the money.
Even as an incredibly expensive option, DAC technology may be one of the least costly approaches to climate change overall. Research has shown that utilizing DAC could drastically cut costs of climate mitigation globally, if acted upon fast enough. Some companies, like Microsoft, have incorporated consideration of the technology into their climate pledges already. It is important to remember, though, that if mitigation efforts become too dependent on DAC, and these machines fail to deliver on their promises, the world would face a detrimental setback. On top of that, if used as needed, these machines would take up an estimated quarter of energy use worldwide by the year 2100.
As technology continues to advance, though, these machines will become cheaper, and over time their accessibility will increase as their prices drop. That being said, the materials and labor needed to create DAC machines will continue to be regarded as highly valuable, so it can be expected that they remain at a relatively high price-point overall. So while these innovative machines may become more common in the future, it’s hard to imagine them becoming the main defense against the climate crisis.
All things considered, DAC technology is quite possibly a piece of the much larger climate mitigation puzzle. Its unique approach to achieving negative emissions is certainly a valuable asset in the fight against the climate crisis. It’s hard to say whether the machines will reach the front lines, but you can be sure this isn’t the last you’ll hear of them.