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Carbon capture's unexpected hurdle

Jul 11, 2022
Illustration of a lasso attempting to capture a carbon dioxide molecule

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Direct air capture is facing an unexpected hurdle — the slowed development of continuous renewable energy even as groups like Stripe-backed Frontier rev up on the $1 billion industry.

Why it matters: Investors, tech companies and scientists are all excited about the potential promise — and relative necessity — around DAC, but it's still facing key infrastructure issues that could stall progress, and ultimately curtail its effectiveness.

State of play: All existing DAC technologies require energy in some form to function.

  • If companies opt to burn fossil fuels to operate DAC tech, the net-zero equation becomes trickier.

Yes, but: Renewable energy is still not at a place where it can supply continuous power from sources like solar and wind.

  • Even with grid-level storage, the infrastructure around batteries and moving the energy from the generating plant to a different location for use is lagging.
  • "It's a difficult engineering problem with a solution that doesn't exist yet," Peter Minor, Carbon180's director of science and innovation, tells Axios.

The bottom line: Any climate technologies powered by fossil fuels may end up doing more harm than good until continuous, grid-scale renewables are online.

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