Context & Scale
An industrial process for large-scale capture of atmospheric CO2 (DAC) serves two roles. First, as a source of CO2 for making carbon-neutral hydrocarbon fuels, enabling carbon-free energy to be converted into high-energy-density fuels. Solar fuels, for example, may be produced at high-insolation low-cost locations from DAC-CO2 and electrolytic hydrogen using gas-to-liquids technology enabling decarbonization of difficult-to-electrify sectors such as aviation. And second, DAC with CO2 sequestration allows carbon removal.
The feasibility of DAC has been disputed, in part, because publications have not provided sufficient engineering detail to allow independent evaluation of costs. We provide an engineering cost basis for a commercial DAC system for which all major components are either drawn from well-established commercial heritage or described in sufficient detail to allow assessment by third parties. This design reflects roughly 100 person-years of development by Carbon Engineering.
We describe a process for capturing CO2 from the atmosphere in an industrial plant. The design captures ∼1 Mt-CO2/year in a continuous process using an aqueous KOH sorbent coupled to a calcium caustic recovery loop. We describe the design rationale, summarize performance of the major unit operations, and provide a capital cost breakdown developed with an independent consulting engineering firm. We report results from a pilot plant that provides data on performance of the major unit operations. We summarize the energy and material balance computed using an Aspen process simulation. When CO2 is delivered at 15 MPa, the design requires either 8.81 GJ of natural gas, or 5.25 GJ of gas and 366 kWhr of electricity, per ton of CO2 captured. Depending on financial assumptions, energy costs, and the specific choice of inputs and outputs, the levelized cost per ton CO2 captured from the atmosphere ranges from 94 to 232 $/t-CO2.
Counter-geoengineering is the idea that a country might seek or threaten to counteract the cooling effect of solar geoengineering through technical means. Although this concept has been mentioned with increasing frequency in commentary on geoengineering, it has received little scholarly attention. We offer a preliminary analysis. We begin by distinguishing two kinds of counter-geoengineering: countervailing with a warming agent, and neutralising with a physical disruption. Based on this distinction, we review prior suggestions and describe novel methods by which either method might be accomplished, within the constraints imposed by deep technical uncertainties and substantial technical challenges. We then reflect on the strategic requirements and motivations for developing counter geoengineering and use a simple game-theoretic framework to demonstrate how counter-geoengineering might interact with the free-driver dynamic of solar geoengineering to shape climate geopolitics. We find that any state that could credibly threaten counter-geoengineering would effectively have a veto over the use of solar geoengineering, which could reduce the prospects of unilateral deployment. Alternatively, the development of geoengineering and countergeoengineering capabilities could lead to dangerous brinkmanship. We conclude that the development of counter-geoengineering would face considerable practical obstacles and would signal continuing political failure to manage climate risks on a cooperative basis.
Delivering emission reductions consistent with a 1.5°C trajectory will require innovative public financial instruments designed to mobilize trillions of dollars of low-carbon private investment. Traditional public subsidy instruments such as grants and concessional loans, while critical to supporting nascent technologies or high-capital-cost projects, do not provide the price signals required to shift private investments towards low-carbon alternatives at a scale. Programmes that underwrite the value of emission reductions using auctioned price floors provide price certainty over long time horizons, thus improving the cost-effectiveness of limited public funds while also catalysing private investment.
Taking lessons from the World Bank’s Pilot Auction Facility, which supports methane and nitrous oxide mitigation projects, and the United Kingdom’s Contracts for Difference programme, which supports renewable energy deployment, we show that auctioned price floors can be applied to a variety of sectors with greater efficiency and scalability than traditional subsidy instruments. We explore how this new class of instrument can enhance the cost-effectiveness of carbon pricing and complementary policies needed to achieve a 1.5°C outcome, including through large-scale adoption by the Green Climate Fund and other international and domestic climate finance vehicles.
Key policy insights
- Traditional public climate finance interventions such as grants and concessional loans have not mobilized private capital at the scale needed to decarbonize the world economy consistent with the 2°C target, much less 1.5°C, and will likely face ongoing constraints in the future.
- Auctioned price floors – subsidies that offer a guaranteed price for future emission reductions – maximize climate impact per public dollar while incentivizing private investment in low-carbon technologies.
- This new subsidy instrument, if applied at scale via the Green Climate Fund and other domestic and international climate finance vehicles, can promote private sector competition to bring down technology costs and drive innovation, thereby supporting a longer term transition to regulation and sector- or economy-wide carbon markets.
- To facilitate the transition from public subsidy to the market-based support of climate mitigation, auctioned price floors should work in tandem with carbon pricing and complementary policies, using the same accounting and monitoring, reporting and verification toolkits.