Direct Air Capture (DAC)

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research


What it is

Direct Air Capture (DAC) is a technology that captures carbon dioxide (CO2) directly from the ambient air, separating it from other gases through various chemical and physical processes. Unlike traditional carbon capture methods that focus on capturing emissions at their source (e.g., power plants), DAC actively removes CO2 already present in the atmosphere.

Impact on climate action

Direct Air Capture (DAC) revolutionizes CO2 capture by removing it directly from the atmosphere, mitigating climate change. This innovation enhances climate action by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, aiding in meeting targets set by international agreements like the Paris Agreement, and fostering a more sustainable future through carbon-neutral practices.

Underlying
Technology

Several different approaches are being developed and deployed in DAC, including:

  • Solid Sorbent Capture: This approach utilizes solid materials with a high affinity for CO2. Air is passed through these materials, and the CO2 molecules bind to the surface. The captured CO2 is then released through heating or pressure changes and collected for storage or utilization.
  • Liquid Solvent Capture: This method uses liquid solvents that chemically react with CO2 in the air. The CO2-rich solution is then separated, and the CO2 is released and collected.
  • Membrane-Based Capture: Specialized membranes are used to selectively filter CO2 from the air. This approach utilizes the different permeabilities of gases through the membrane to separate and concentrate CO2.

TRL : 6-7

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Advanced Sorbent Materials: Researchers are developing new sorbent materials with higher CO2 capture capacity, faster kinetics, and greater durability, enhancing the overall efficiency of DAC systems.
  • Low-Energy Capture Processes: Innovations are focusing on reducing the energy required for CO2 capture and release, minimizing the environmental impact and cost of DAC operations.
  • Modular and Scalable Designs: DAC systems are being designed with modularity and scalability in mind, allowing for flexible deployment and easier integration with various applications.
  • Direct Air Capture with Utilization (DACU): This approach integrates the captured CO2 into valuable products like synthetic fuels, building materials, or even food products, creating economic incentives for carbon removal.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Solid Sorbent Innovation
  • Liquid Solvent Advancements
  • Membrane Technology Breakthroughs
  • High-Capacity Sorbent Development
  • Enhanced Sorbent Kinetics
  • Durable Sorbent Materials
  • Energy-Efficient Capture Processes
  • Low-Energy Release Techniques
  • Modular DAC System Designs
  • Scalable DAC Deployment
  • DAC Integration with Existing Infrastructure
  • DAC Application Flexibility

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • Climeworks:
    • Technology Focus: Climeworks specializes in Direct Air Capture (DAC) technology, which involves capturing carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere. They utilize specialized filters and chemical processes to remove CO2 from ambient air.
    • Uniqueness: Climeworks stands out for being one of the pioneers in DAC technology and for their modular, scalable approach to carbon capture. They offer solutions that can be deployed in various locations, including urban areas, industrial sites, and remote regions.
    • End-User Segments: Their target segments include industries with high carbon emissions, such as energy production, manufacturing, transportation, and agriculture. They also cater to organizations and governments seeking carbon offset solutions and climate mitigation strategies.
  • Carbon Engineering:
    • Technology Focus: Carbon Engineering is another key player in the DAC space, focusing on capturing CO2 directly from the atmosphere and converting it into useful products or sequestering it underground. They employ advanced engineering and chemical processes for efficient carbon removal.
    • Uniqueness: Carbon Engineering distinguishes itself through its focus on not just capturing CO2 but also converting it into valuable products like synthetic fuels or chemicals. This approach offers a dual benefit of carbon removal and the production of sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels.
    • End-User Segments: Their solutions are relevant for industries seeking to reduce their carbon footprint, as well as for governments and organizations aiming to meet carbon neutrality targets or invest in carbon offset projects.
  • Global Thermostat:
    • Technology Focus: Global Thermostat specializes in DAC technology with a focus on modular, scalable systems for carbon capture. They utilize proprietary sorbent materials and thermal processes to efficiently capture CO2 from the air.
    • Uniqueness: Global Thermostat is known for its patented technology that allows for the capture of CO2 at low concentrations, making it suitable for direct air capture applications. They also emphasize the potential for utilizing captured CO2 as a feedstock for various industrial processes.
    • End-User Segments: Their target segments include industries with high carbon emissions, as well as organizations and governments seeking scalable solutions for carbon removal and climate change mitigation.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  1. Arizona State University:
    • Technology Enhancements: Researchers at ASU are advancing the technology of Direct Air Capture (DAC) by developing novel materials and processes for efficiently capturing carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere. They are exploring innovative sorbent materials and reactor designs to enhance the performance and scalability of DAC systems.
    • Uniqueness of Research: ASU’s approach involves a combination of experimental and computational methods to design and optimize DAC systems. They are investigating the use of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power to drive the DAC process, making it more sustainable and cost-effective.
    • End-use Applications: The research at ASU has implications for mitigating climate change by removing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it underground or utilizing it for various industrial applications. DAC technology can help industries achieve their carbon neutrality goals and transition to a low-carbon economy.
  2. University of California, Berkeley:
    • Technology Enhancements: UC Berkeley researchers are focusing on developing advanced materials and catalysts for enhancing the efficiency and selectivity of Direct Air Capture (DAC) processes. They are investigating the use of metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) and other porous materials for capturing CO2 from the atmosphere at ambient conditions.
    • Uniqueness of Research: UC Berkeley’s research involves a multidisciplinary approach, combining expertise in materials science, chemistry, and chemical engineering to address the challenges associated with DAC technology. They are exploring new synthesis techniques and characterization methods to design custom-tailored materials for DAC applications.
    • End-use Applications: The research at UC Berkeley has implications for a wide range of industries, including energy, transportation, and manufacturing. By capturing CO2 directly from the atmosphere, DAC technology can help mitigate climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from various sources, contributing to global efforts to combat climate change.
  3. Imperial College London:
    • Technology Enhancements: Researchers at Imperial College London are focusing on developing scalable and cost-effective Direct Air Capture (DAC) technologies by optimizing the process design and integration with existing industrial processes. They are exploring novel reactor configurations and system architectures to improve the energy efficiency and economic viability of DAC systems.
    • Uniqueness of Research: Imperial College’s research involves a systems-level approach, considering the entire lifecycle of DAC technology from capture to storage or utilization. They are conducting techno-economic assessments and life cycle analyses to identify the most promising pathways for deploying DAC technology at scale.
    • End-use Applications: The research at Imperial College has implications for various sectors, including power generation, manufacturing, and agriculture. DAC technology can help industries meet their emissions reduction targets and comply with regulatory requirements while creating new opportunities for sustainable economic development.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

DAC technology has moved beyond the research phase and is being commercially implemented, albeit on a relatively small scale compared to the vast amounts of atmospheric CO2.

  • Climeworks has deployed several commercial plants in Europe, capturing CO2 for utilization in greenhouses and beverage carbonation. They also offer carbon removal services to businesses and individuals.
  • Carbon Engineering is building a large-scale DAC plant in the US, aiming to produce synthetic fuels from captured CO2.
  • Global Thermostat has partnered with several companies to deploy their modular DAC systems for industrial emissions capture.

While DAC technology faces challenges related to cost and scalability, ongoing innovations and increasing investment are driving down costs and improving efficiency.