Direct Air Capture (DAC) at Scale

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research


What it is

Direct Air Capture (DAC) refers to technologies that extract carbon dioxide (CO2) directly from ambient air, regardless of the emission source. Unlike point-source carbon capture, which captures CO2 at industrial facilities, DAC can be deployed anywhere, offering greater flexibility and addressing legacy emissions already dispersed in the atmosphere.

Impact on climate action

Direct Air Capture (DAC) at Scale is a transformative moonshot innovation that directly removes CO2 from the atmosphere, mitigating climate change by significantly reducing greenhouse gas concentrations. This technology promises to complement traditional emissions reduction efforts and could play a crucial role in achieving global climate goals.

Underlying
Technology

  • Solid Sorbents: This prevalent method utilizes solid materials, often coated with specialized chemical sorbents, to bind with CO2 molecules present in the air. The captured CO2 is then released through a regeneration process, allowing the sorbent to be reused.
  • Liquid Solvents: Another approach involves using liquid solvents that chemically react with CO2, separating it from the air. Subsequent processes release the captured CO2 for storage or utilization, regenerating the solvent for further use.
  • Air Contactors: These large structures facilitate the contact between air and the sorbent or solvent, maximizing the efficiency of CO2 capture.
  • Carbon Sequestration: The captured CO2 is typically sequestered underground in geological formations or utilized in various industrial processes.

TRL : 6-7

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Novel Sorbent Materials: Startups like Carbon Engineering and Climeworks are developing new sorbent materials with enhanced CO2 capture capacity, faster regeneration cycles, and reduced energy requirements.
  • Process Optimization: Innovations are focused on optimizing the entire DAC process, from air contactor design to regeneration methods, to improve energy efficiency and reduce costs.
  • Low-Carbon Energy Sources: Integrating DAC facilities with renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, can minimize the carbon footprint of the capture process.
  • Modular and Scalable Designs: Companies like Global Thermostat are developing modular DAC systems that can be easily scaled up to meet increasing demand for carbon removal.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Solid Sorbent Technology Advancements
  • Liquid Solvent Innovation
  • Air Contactor Engineering
  • Carbon Sequestration Techniques
  • Novel Sorbent Materials Development
  • Regeneration Process Enhancements
  • Energy-Efficient DAC Systems
  • Integration with Renewable Energy
  • Modular DAC System Design
  • Scalable Carbon Capture Solutions
  • Economic Feasibility Studies
  • Environmental Impact Assessments
  • Policy and Regulatory Frameworks
  • Public Perception and Acceptance
  • International Collaboration Strategies
  • Carbon Offsetting Mechanisms
  • Market Opportunities for DAC
  • Carbon Utilization Technologies
  • Techno-Economic Analysis

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • Climeworks:
    • Technology Focus: Climeworks specializes in direct air capture technology, which involves capturing CO2 directly from ambient air using specialized filters. Their approach focuses on scalable solutions to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.
    • Uniqueness: Climeworks is known for developing modular DAC units that can be deployed in various locations, enabling decentralized carbon removal. They also focus on utilizing the captured CO2 for applications such as carbon-neutral fuels and carbonation in beverages.
    • End-User Segments: Their technology targets industries and organizations aiming to achieve carbon neutrality or negative emissions, including energy companies, transportation sectors, and food and beverage industries.
  • Carbon Engineering (CE):
    • Technology Focus: Carbon Engineering specializes in DAC technology to remove CO2 from the air. They have developed advanced systems that capture CO2 using a chemical process, which can be stored underground or utilized in various industrial applications.
    • Uniqueness: CE is notable for its integration of DAC with carbon utilization technologies, such as synthetic fuels and carbon-neutral synthetic materials. They aim to commercialize scalable DAC systems that can significantly contribute to global carbon reduction efforts.
    • End-User Segments: Their solutions are targeted at industries seeking to mitigate their carbon footprint, including energy-intensive sectors like oil and gas, as well as governments and organizations committed to climate action.
  • Global Thermostat:
    • Technology Focus: Global Thermostat focuses on DAC technology designed to capture CO2 from the atmosphere. Their approach includes using proprietary absorbents and thermal processes to efficiently extract CO2 at scale.
    • Uniqueness: Global Thermostat distinguishes itself by emphasizing the scalability and cost-effectiveness of its DAC systems. They also promote the use of captured CO2 for applications such as agriculture, beverages, and industrial processes.
    • End-User Segments: Their technology targets a wide range of industries and organizations interested in carbon removal solutions, including agriculture, food and beverage, manufacturing, and environmental sustainability sectors.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • Arizona State University (ASU):
    • Technology Enhancements: ASU researchers are advancing DAC technology by integrating novel materials and engineering solutions to enhance the efficiency and scalability of carbon dioxide (CO2) capture from ambient air. They are exploring innovative sorbent materials and reactor designs that improve CO2 capture rates and energy efficiency.
    • Uniqueness of Research: ASU’s approach includes interdisciplinary collaboration between materials scientists, chemical engineers, and environmental scientists to tackle key challenges in DAC technology. They are investigating how advanced nanomaterials and catalytic processes can lower the cost and energy requirements of capturing CO2 at atmospheric concentrations.
    • End-use Applications: The research at ASU has implications for mitigating climate change by removing CO2 from the atmosphere. Captured CO2 can be utilized in carbon-neutral fuel production, enhanced oil recovery, or stored underground to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • University of California, Berkeley:
    • Technology Enhancements: UC Berkeley researchers are focusing on optimizing DAC systems through advanced computational modeling and simulation. They are developing predictive models to optimize the performance of DAC units, considering factors such as energy consumption, material durability, and environmental impact.
    • Uniqueness of Research: UC Berkeley’s approach integrates principles of systems engineering and sustainability to design DAC systems that operate efficiently at scale. They are exploring modular DAC units and integration with renewable energy sources to achieve carbon-negative outcomes.
    • End-use Applications: The DAC research at UC Berkeley aims to provide scalable solutions for industries and governments seeking to achieve net-zero emissions targets. Captured CO2 can be used in carbon removal markets, industrial processes, or permanently stored underground to mitigate climate impacts.
  • Columbia University:
    • Technology Enhancements: Columbia University researchers are innovating DAC technologies by exploring novel capture materials and reactor designs that enhance CO2 adsorption efficiency and reduce operating costs. They are investigating advanced sorbents and membranes to improve CO2 selectivity and regeneration cycles.
    • Uniqueness of Research: Columbia’s research emphasizes the integration of DAC with renewable energy sources and carbon utilization technologies. They are developing hybrid systems that combine DAC with electrolysis or mineralization processes to convert captured CO2 into valuable products, such as synthetic fuels or building materials.
    • End-use Applications: The DAC research at Columbia University has implications for creating new economic opportunities in carbon removal markets and sustainable development. By scaling up DAC technology, industries can achieve carbon neutrality and contribute to global climate goals through effective carbon management strategies.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Several DAC companies, including Climeworks and Carbon Engineering, are operating commercial-scale plants and providing captured CO2 to various industries. The technology is gaining traction, but further cost reductions and policy incentives are needed for widespread deployment.