Capturing CO2 from the Air Remains Cost-Prohibitive, Study Says

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Systems designed to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere will have a “very limited role” in the fight against global warming, according to a new study by the American Physical Society.

While it is technically feasible to pull CO2 from ambient air — as opposed to capturing and sequestering emissions directly from power plants — the costs will remain too high to make it a viable option for decades to come, researchers say.

The study said that pulling CO2 from the air costs about $600 a ton, compared with roughly $80 a ton to capture it directly from the flue gas of a coal-fired power plant. The most significant challenge is the low concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere; while flue gas from a coal plant contains about 10 percent CO2, concentrations in ambient air are only about four-hundredths of a percentage point.

“We have to deal with our centralized power sources first,” said Robert Socolow, a Princeton researcher and co-chair of the study. Advocates of direct air capture, however, say the technology remains in its early stages and that it would be a mistake to write it off as an option in reducing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

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Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news. Yale Environment 360 is published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale University. We are funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The opinions and views expressed in Yale Environment 360 are those of the authors and not of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies or of Yale University.