US presses ahead with plan to invest $3.5bn in four direct air capture hubs

The White House has announced it is to invest $3.5bn in four large-scale direct air capture (DAC) networks, as part of its plans to spur the roll out of the nascent clean technology and put the US on a pathway to reach net zero emissions by mid-century.

In a statement late last week, the US Department of Energy confirmed it would fund the Regional Direct Air Capture Hub programme, set out in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that was signed by President Joe Biden last autumn.

The multi-billion-dollar program aims to support four regional DAC hubs across the US, which would each comprise a network of different carbon removal projects.

The Department of Energy said it expected each hub to permanently sequester a million metric tons of CO2 annually, either from a single unit or from multiple interconnected units.

The hope is that the hubs ramp up the widespread deployment of DAC technologies and associated CO2 transport and storage infrastructure across the US.

Governments around the world have faced growing calls to incentivise investment in DAC technology, which is currently limited to a handful of small, pilot facilities around the world. The world’s largest operational DAC plant – the Orca plant operated by Climeworks in Iceland – currently captures just 4,000 tons of CO2 each year.

But the scientists that make up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have warned that rapidly growing carbon removal technology markets, including DAC, are likely to play a crucial role in stabilizing global temperatures at safe levels.

Announcing the funding programme, US Secretary of Energy Jennifer M Granholm said DAC would be a critical component of the net zero transition.

“The UN’s latest climate report made clear that removing legacy carbon pollution from the air through direct air capture and safely storing it is an essential weapon in our fight against the climate crisis,” she said. “President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is funding new technologies that will not only make our carbon-free future a reality but will help position the US as a net zero leader while creating good-paying jobs for a transitioning clean energy workforce.”

The Department of Energy said carbon dioxide removal technologies would need to be “at the gigaton scale” by mid-century.

It pledged to “emphasise” environmental justice, community engagement, consent-based sitting, equity and workforce development, and domestic supply chains and manufacturing as it worked to develop and deploy the four regional direct air capture hubs.

The White House’s DAC investment program comes just a month after Google, Meta, Stripe and Shopify launched a $925m fund aimed at bringing carbon removal start-ups to scale and reducing the costs of drawing CO2 from the atmosphere using technology.

However, environmental groups remain wary of the nascent DAC sector, fearing that it could drive up the cost of the net zero transition and be used by governments and carbon intensive industries to justify continued investment in fossil fuel infrastructure, despite the fact it remains unclear if The negative emissions technologies can soak up CO2 at sufficient pace and scale.

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