It appears that the Biden administration is steadfastly determined to invest billions into addressing a carbon dioxide non-problem. Ari Natter and Brian Kahn of Bloomberg report on the administration’s decision to sink a cool $3.5 billion into technologies designed to pull carbon dioxide out of the air. But given the nature of carbon dioxide and the energy dynamics involved, one has to wonder: Is this just an expensive venture chasing after a non-issue?
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm describes the technology as
“essentially a giant vacuum that can suck decades of old carbon pollution straight out of the sky.”
There’s a multiple leaps of faith here: not only in assuming carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is an ‘old pollution’ problem, but also in the hope that this tech can help achieve “net-zero emission goals.” However, I would like to argue, from an energy perspective, this endeavor might prove to be more wasteful than
Remember our basic energy equations? The energy required to reverse a process is roughly equivalent to the energy that was originally released. Translated into this context: removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere could require as much energy as was released when the fossil fuels were burned in the first place. Doesn’t this seem like a cycle of wasted effort and expenditure?
Granholm suggests that,
“Once operational, the hubs are expected to remove more than 2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year from the atmosphere.”
But let’s take a closer look. The largest DAC plant in the world, operated by Swiss startup Climeworks in Iceland, can capture a mere 4,000 tons of CO2 annually. As the report states, this is “equivalent to a few seconds of humanity’s carbon emissions.” The energy and resources put into this, relative to the output, are ludicrously disproportionate.
The article goes on to highlight the considerable energy requirements of these Direct Air Capture (DAC) plants, stating,
“Even with these efforts, DAC remains costly and requires a large amount of energy.”
Here lies the irony: Are we potentially using more energy, perhaps sourced from fossil fuels, to capture a gas that plants use for photosynthesis?
The report leans heavily on global warming predictions, stating that
“Nearly every scenario to limit global warming to 1.5C… will require removing billions of tons of carbon from the atmosphere each year by mid-century.”
However, considering the infinitesimal impact of current DAC projects and the immense costs associated, We are compelled to ask: How badly are we throwing resources at the wrong solution to a nonexistent problem?
In all, while the push for DAC technologies is clear, the practicality, necessity, and feasibility of these solutions are anything but. When one understands the energy dynamics and questions the premise that atmospheric carbon dioxide is even an issue, Biden’s multi-billion dollar gamble seems less like a visionary leap and more like a costly misstep. Instead of costly ventures with dubious returns, it might be wiser to reevaluate our stance on carbon dioxide and refocus our resources more judiciously.