The Department of Energy is giving grants of up to $1.2 billion to two direct air capture (DAC) projects that aim to remove more than 2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year. The agency says that's equivalent to the annual emissions of around 445,000 gas-powered cars. The DOE notes that the projects in Texas and Louisiana will "create 4,800 good-paying jobs" as well.
DAC employs a chemical process to separate CO2 from the air. Facilities can then store CO2 underground or put it into carbon-containing products like concrete that prevent the gas from getting back into the atmosphere.
These are the first commercial-scale DAC projects in the US. They'll each be capable of removing more than 250 times as much CO2 from the atmosphere than the current largest DAC location, according to the DOE. Occidental Petroleum subsidiary 1PointFive and its partners are building the Texas facility. The company's CEO says that, when the project is fully operational, it has the potential to remove up to 30 million tons of CO2 from the atmosphere each year.
The two projects are the first selections from the Regional Direct Air Capture Hubs program, which the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funded. The aim of the program is to mitigate the impact of climate change by developing a nationwide group of large-scale carbon removal sites that will work in harmony with other efforts to reduce emissions.
The DOE says that, when it is sufficiently scaled up, DAC technology can help the US meet its target of neutralizing emissions by 2050. However, as Reuters notes, to reach the level of scale needed for DAC to have a big enough impact globally, it's imperative to reduce the costs involved quickly.
To that end, the agency has announced several efforts to lower the costs of DAC to below $100 for each net metric ton of CO2-equivalent by the end of the 2020s. It's funding 14 feasibility studies along with five engineering and design studies for projects that are in earlier stages. There's also a $35 million government procurement program in place for carbon removal credits.
To reach the Biden administration's goal of having a net zero emissions economy by 2050, the DOE estimates that between 400 million and 1.8 billion metric tons will have to be removed from the atmosphere and captured from emissions sources every year.