Two carbon air capture projects spark climate change divisions 

Backers of Texas and Louisiana direct air capture (DAC) schemes differ in how carbon removal should be deployed, and what role oil and gas should play
Two carbon air capture projects spark climate change divisions 

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In Texas, oil and gas producer Occidental Petroleum is constructing a giant facility to suck 500,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere annually to keep it from warming the climate, a project backed by hundreds of millions of dollars from investment firm BlackRock.

In Louisiana, a consortium of companies including Swiss firm Climeworks is teaming up to build a similar facility that can pull a million tonnes of the greenhouse gas out of the sky each year, boosted by hundreds of millions of dollars in US government grants.

The direct air capture, or DAC, projects are in neighbouring states, but the companies leading them are worlds away when it comes to their views on how carbon removal — an expensive and largely unproven family of technologies to fight or even reverse global warming — should be deployed in a climate-friendly future and the role oil and gas should play in its deployment.

Occidental says some of its carbon would be injected into oil fields to ramp up pressure and raise crude production. Climeworks, along with its partner Heirloom, says its carbon will go straight into underground storage, and that the technology must go hand-in-hand with a transition to renewable energy.

The clashing philosophies mirror a global debate over the role carbon removal tech should play to keep the world from exceeding a 1.5C rise that will take centre stage at the 28th United Nations climate change conference (Cop28) that starts this week.

Cop 28 hosts — Opec member, the United Arab Emirates — is promoting the use of carbon removal as a means of reducing emissions from fossil fuels, as opposed to eliminating the fossil fuels themselves. Scientists have said carbon removal is needed to keep climate goals alive.

That approach has the backing of global producers seeking to continue profiting from fossil fuels, but draws scepticism among environmentalists and some governments that see it as a ploy to prolong the lifespan of oil and gas. Underscoring the rift, the International Energy Agency said last week that the oil and gas industry is over-relying on carbon capture to reduce emissions and called the approach “an illusion”, sparking an angry response from Opec.

The differing approaches also reflect an important financial dynamic in the carbon removal industry: In the near term, it is a lot easier to make money trapping carbon if it comes with a perk like higher oil production. Otherwise, the enormous price tag for world-scale carbon removal would need to fall to governments if there is any chance of these projects surviving.

A major concern is that DAC technology is both expensive and unproven at scale, mainly because of the huge amount of energy required to run the equipment.

More mature carbon capture and storage (CSS) technology, which traps emissions at a point source like a smokestack, also requires a rapid scale up to make a difference. There are 41 operational commercial CCS projects worldwide.  

Incoming Cop president Sultan al-Jaber has said that the technology to capture or remove carbon is needed in “any realistic scenario” to meet the world’s climate goals. 

The UAE’s national oil company recently teamed up with Occidental to evaluate investment in DAC plants. 

However, Climeworks chief executive Christoph Gebald said: “If you use air capture to get more fuels out of the ground, you're taking away market potential for renewables.

"This is not in alignment with the energy transition.” 

  • Reuters


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