Aug 11, 2023 - Technology

Biden admin shells out $1.2B to bolster carbon removal

Illustration of a shoe stepping on a carbon molecule

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

The Energy Department just unveiled its biggest moves to help build the nascent market for removing carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere.

Driving the news: The agency is awarding up to $1.2 billion for two consortiums to build commercial-scale direct air capture (DAC) "hubs."

  • It's the "world's largest investment in engineered carbon removal in history," per the department, which said the projects will create nearly 5,000 jobs.
  • Project Cypress in Louisiana involves the big nonprofit science and tech group Battelle, and DAC firms Climeworks and Heirloom.
  • The other, in Texas, is led by 1PointFive. It's a subsidiary of oil giant Occidental Petroleum, working with DAC company Carbon Engineering and Worley, a firm that provides engineering and other services.

The big picture: According to DoE, the two hubs would eventually remove more than 250 times of CO2 than the largest DAC facility currently operating.

  • The 2021 infrastructure law has $3.5 billion for DAC hubs, so there's likely more to come as the agency vets other proposals.

State of play: Hubs are meant to remove and sequester real amounts of CO2 — and put the industry on the path toward vastly larger, nationwide scale and lower costs.

  • Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told reporters the two hubs are expected to remove over 2 million metric tons of CO2 annually, "which is like taking nearly half a million gas powered cars off the road."
  • And they'll "help us prove out the potential of this game changing technology so that others can follow in their footsteps."

Why it matters: Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) is increasingly viewed as a necessary complement to zero-emitting energy and efficiency — but not a substitute for them — in the fight against climate change.

What they're saying: "The hubs can bring together multiple DAC companies within the same facility to access shared infrastructure so they can scale their technology faster and do it at a lower cost," Jack Andreasen, of the Bill Gates-led Breakthrough Energy, said in a blog post.

In addition, DoE announced its preliminary intent to fund various initiatives involving multiple CDR methods, as it looks to help drive down costs below $100 per metric ton.

  • The planned pilots and competitions cover speeding CO2 uptake in oceans and rock formations, biomass-based removal methods, and lots more.
  • Advocates are especially psyched about plans for $35 million in federal purchasing of removal services.
  • "Government procurement can and must play a strong role in establishing a trustworthy carbon removal market and will provide much-needed proof of revenue for companies trying to finance projects," Giana Amador, executive director of the Carbon Removal Alliance, tells Axios.

Reality check: There's absolutely no guarantee DAC or other methods will ever reach the scale needed to become powerful weapons against global warming.

The bottom line: CDR is getting unprecedented federal support.

Go deeper