"[Carbon Engineering's] vision is to reduce the effects of climate change by first cutting emissions, then by reducing atmospheric CO2", explains the company's CEO Steve Oldham.
United Nations reports indicate that governments may have to deploy such novel technologies this century to remove carbon from nature and bury it to limit global warming under the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
Carbon Engineering is entering the race to suck carbon from the sky and turn it into automotive fuels.
The low-end figure is based on a scenario in which electrolysis using no-carbon energy sources breaks apart water to provide both the oxygen and-crucially-the hydrogen needed to combine with the captured carbon dioxide to produce hydrocarbon fuels such as gasoline and diesel.
"Direct air capture is a politically promising route for carbon dioxide removal", said Oliver Geden, of the German Institute for worldwide and Security Affairs.
At least seven companies worldwide are working on the idea.
It costs Climeworks about $600 U.S. a tonne to remove carbon from the atmosphere.
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"We're tapping into existing industrial equipment and then defining a new process and applying some unique chemistry to it", said Oldham.
We feast on fossil fuels to power our cars, trains, manufacturing plants and cities, but our reliance on them means we continue to flood our atmosphere with carbon dioxide now reaching levels higher than ever before.
"We've bought the smallest scalable unit of each piece of technology we have". The NREL's cost for that much hydrogen comes to $225 plus the $94 to capture the carbon dioxide. Commercialization of such plants would allow direct air capture to make a dent in transportation emissions by connecting low-cost renewable energy to low-carbon transportation fuels using Carbon Engineering's AIR TO FUELSTM pathway.
The company says their immediate goal is to produce synthetic liquid fuels made from carbon and renewable energy.
That footprint would shrink further if the plant were all-electric.
But Herzog, who has also studied the challenges of converting carbon dioxide into fuel, remains skeptical that the numbers will work even for that initial business model. "By making the fuel carbon neutral, the entire transportation sector can become carbon neutral without changing all of the infrastructure - we don't all have to get a new auto, we don't have to replace every gas station with an electric grid for charging". That cheap power doesn't magically make an airplane go from Winnipeg to Halifax.
"For liquid fuels we need better answers, this approach, Carbon dioxide from the air plus hydrogen you get from renewables to make fuels, that's the pathway". "These guys actually have something you can measure", says Stephen Pacala, an ecologist with Princeton University who is chairing a panel on carbon removal technologies for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
If the company can qualify for government subsidies, the price of recycling CO2 could be cheaper than the price of carbon credits under California's cap-and-trade program. Thanks to ultra-low life cycle carbon intensities, they are a promising route for reducing carbon emissions in heavy transportation and other sectors of the energy system that are demanding and hard to electrify. "They'd be no longer dependent on the geopolitical situation if Country X has oil and Country Y does not".