From Air to Action: How Direct Air Capture Fights Climate Change

Aug 03 2023

Cat Kutz

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Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges of our time, driven primarily by the increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2). While mitigating future emissions is crucial, addressing the excess CO2 already present in the atmosphere is equally important. This is where Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) solutions come into play for this global issue. Capturing CO2 directly from the atmosphere and storing it permanently can be a game-changer for the climate. The $100M XPRIZE Carbon Removal competition is encouraging innovators from around the world to find the best, most scalable CDR solutions. Teams developing “air” solutions are finding ways to remove CO2 from the air, purifying it so it can be stored safely and durably.

What is Direct Air Capture?

Direct Air Capture (DAC) describes a class of cutting-edge technologies designed to remove CO2 from the air. Unlike point-source carbon capture, where CO2 is captured directly at power plants and industrial facilities to reduce emissions emitted from those facilities, DAC removes already emitted CO2 from the air and can be deployed anywhere, making it a versatile solution to combat climate change.

The process typically involves using chemical reactions or filters to capture CO2 from ambient, or outdoor, air. After the CO2 is trapped, it can be stored using various carbon storage techniques or used for other purposes such as synthetic fuel production, carbon-negative materials, or enhanced plant growth.

Advantages of DAC

Direct air capture has many advantages. Facilities can be installed virtually anywhere, allowing for a distributed approach to reducing CO2 levels. This decentralized aspect of air capture makes it possible to remove CO2 anywhere there are opportunities for safe, long-term storage and ample clean electricity to power the systems. According to the International Energy Agency , across Europe, North America, Japan and the Middle East, 27 DAC plants have been commissioned, with plans for more.

jet blue airplane during takeoff

What if air travel could have a smaller climate footprint? It could be possible with jet fuel produced via DAC.

Once the CO2 is captured, it can either be stored permanently underground or transformed into valuable products, known as carbon dioxide utilization. There are many different types of products that can be made from CO2, some of them, such as concrete and plastic, can store the CO2 permanently, but others, like chemicals and fuels, will be re-emitted into the atmosphere as the products are used – this can be thought of more as carbon recycling. Teams competing in XPRIZE Carbon Removal are all pursuing products with the potential to store CO2 for at least 100 years. 

Direct air capture presents a compelling pathway to address the excess CO2 in our atmosphere. By harnessing the power and adaptability of DAC paired with carbon storage, we can take significant strides toward building a sustainable and carbon-neutral future for generations to come. 

Check out these videos on XPRIZE Carbon Removal competitors, Air Company, a team capturing ambient air and converting CO2 into durable plastic and jet fuel, and ZS2 Technologies, who are using their DAC method to revolutionize cement production.

Cat Kutz