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Direct Air Capture – Energy System – IEA – IEA

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Direct air capture (DAC) technologies extract CO2 directly from the atmosphere at any location, unlike carbon capture which is generally carried out at the point of emissions, such as a steel plant. The CO2 can be permanently stored in deep geological formations or used for a variety of applications.
Capturing CO2 from the air is the most expensive application of carbon capture. The CO2 in the atmosphere is much more dilute than in, for example, flue gas from a power station or a cement plant. This contributes to DAC’s higher energy needs and costs relative to these applications.
Innovation in CO2 use opportunities, including synthetic fuels, could drive down costs and provide a market for DAC. Early commercial efforts to develop synthetic aviation fuels using air-captured CO2 and hydrogen have started, reflecting the important role that these fuels could play in the sector.
Direct air capture (DAC) technologies extract CO2 directly from the atmosphere, for CO2 storage or utilisation. Twenty-seven DAC plants have been commissioned to date worldwide, capturing almost 0.01 Mt CO2/year. Plans for at least 130 DAC facilities are now at various stages of development. If all were to advance (even those only at the concept stage), DAC deployment would reach the level required in 2030 under the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 (NZE) Scenario, or around 75 MtCO2/year.
Lead times for DAC plants range from two to six years, suggesting that deployment in line with the NZE Scenario could be achieved with adequate policy support. However, most of the facilities announced to date are at very early stages of development, and cannot be expected to reach final investment decision (FID) and operational status without continued development of market mechanisms and policies to create demand for the CO2 removal service they would provide. 

The United States is leading the race on policy support for DAC
Countries and regions making notable progress to advance DAC technologies include: 
DAC plants currently operate on a small scale, but with plans to grow
To date, 27 DAC plants have been commissioned in Europe, North America, Japan and the Middle East. All of these plants are small-scale, with only a few commercial agreements in place to sell or store the captured CO2, while the remaining plants are operated for testing and demonstration purposes. 
Six DAC projects are currently under construction, with the largest two expected to come online in 2024 in Iceland (36 kt CO2/year) and in 2025 in the United States (500 kt CO2/year, with plans to scale up to as much as 1 000 kt CO2/year).  
Fast-growing demand for air-captured CO2, for both carbon removal and low-emission synthetic hydrocarbon fuel production, is translating into several announcements for new, larger plants. Overall, plans for at least 130 DAC facilities are now at various stages of development. Some of the largest projects under development are in the United States (STRATOS, Oxy-CE Kleberg County project and HIF eFuels Matagorda County project in Texas, and Bison in Wyoming), the United Kingdom (the North-East Scotland DAC project), Norway (the Kollsnes DAC project) and Iceland (the Mammoth project).  
Plans for a total of 16 DAC facilities are now in advanced development or under construction. If all of these planned projects go ahead and steadily capture CO2 at full capacity, DAC deployment would reach around 4.7 Mt CO2 by 2030; this is more than 500 times today’s capture rate, but less than 7% of the 75 Mt CO2 needed to get on track with the NZE Scenario. All the remaining projects are still at a very early stage, with no funding committed, and, in certain cases, not even an identified location for deployment. 

Direct air capture expansion projects of selected companies
Capacity in kt CO2/year
2022 and 2030 values refer respectively to estimated operating capacity and planned operating capacity.
How can we capture CO2 directly from the atmosphere?
Two technological approaches are currently being used to capture CO2 from the air: solid and liquid DAC. Solid DAC (S-DAC) is based on solid adsorbents operating at ambient to low pressure (i.e. under a vacuum) and medium temperature (80-120 °C). Liquid DAC (L-DAC) relies on an aqueous basic solution (such as potassium hydroxide), which releases the captured CO2 through a series of units operating at high temperature (between 300 °C and 900 °C). 

Capturing CO2 from the air is more energy intensive – and therefore more expensive – than capturing it from a point source. This is because CO2 in the atmosphere is much more dilute than, for example, in the flue gas of a power station or a cement plant.  
In current DAC plant configurations, the proportion of heat in the total energy needed is influenced by the operating temperature of the technologies. Both S-DAC and L-DAC were initially designed to operate using both heat and electricity, with flexible configurations allowing for heat-only or electricity-only operation. 
A diverse portfolio of technologies exist for S-DAC, differing in energy intensity, operating temperature, and therefore cost.  

A small but growing DAC technology portfolio is emerging
Emerging DAC technologies relying on innovative separation systems, with the main goal of reducing the energy intensity of the processes, include: 
While the most energy intensive step in DAC operation is the re-release of the CO2 after capture, energy savings can also be obtained by targeting other operations, such as the compression of large volumes of ambient air through large fans. This process can be optimised by combining DAC with existing ventilation systems such as those already operating within buildings.  

While S-DAC could be powered by a variety of low-carbon energy sources (e.g. heat pumps, geothermal, nuclear, solar thermal and biomass-based fuels), the current high temperature needs of today’s L-DAC configuration does not allow that level of flexibility. At best, L-DAC could operate using low-carbon fuels such as biomethane or renewables-based electrolytic hydrogen, but in the future L-DAC could shift to fully electric operation (currently only available for small-scale calcination). Large-scale L-DAC plants have been designed to use natural gas for heat and to co-capture the CO2 produced during combustion of the gas without the need for additional capture equipment. This integration substantially reduces the L-DAC plant’s overall emissions and can still enable carbon removal. However, any future ability of renewable energy to supply high-temperature heat could further reduce the process emissions, maximising the potential for carbon removal and associated revenue streams. Accelerating the commercial availability of large-scale electric calcination technology is considered a high priority to enable L-DAC plants to operate purely on renewable energy. 

A major advantage of DAC is its flexibility in siting: in theory, a DAC plant can be situated in any location that has low-carbon energy and a CO2 storage resource or CO2 use opportunity. Yet there may be limits to this siting flexibility. To date, DAC plants have been successfully operated in a range of climatic conditions, mostly in Europe and North America, but further testing is still needed in locations characterised, for instance, by extremely dry or humid climates, or polluted air. In the Middle East, at least five projects are investigating or plan to investigate DAC operating performances in the region, for storage in peridotite formations. One of them, when operational, will become the first DAC-based carbon removal project relying on sea water for its operation.  

For more information
DAC deployment for carbon removal relies on the availability of low-carbon energy sources and CO2 storage
The choice of location also needs to be based on the energy source needed to run the DAC plant. The energy used to capture the CO2 will determine if and how net-negative the system is, and can also be a significant determinant of the cost per tonne of CO2 captured. For instance, both S-DAC and L-DAC technologies could be fuelled by renewable energy sources, while recovered low-grade waste heat could power an S-DAC system.  
Carbon removal requires the CO2 to be permanently stored. While the overall technical capacity for storing CO2 underground worldwide is understood to be vast, detailed site characterisation and assessment to render potential storage sites operational are still needed in many regions. An operating CO2 storage site can take around four to ten years to develop from project conception to CO2 injection. This could become a bottleneck for DAC deployment (and CCUS deployment in general) without accelerated efforts to identify and develop CO2 storage sites. 

Government support for DAC is growing in major markets
Around 60% of announced DAC capacity for 2030 (currently in early development stages) has not yet been linked to a specific location, with project developers awaiting favourable regulations before finalising their expansion plans. In November 2022, 1PointFive and Carbon Engineering announced plans to deploy 100 large-scale DAC facilities (each with a capture capacity of up to 1 Mt per year) by 2035, at least 30 of which are expected to be deployed within the United States, owing to the IRA’s recent increase to the 45Q tax credit. Other regions likely to host some of these facilities include Europe, the Middle East (which has recently shown interest in DAC) and East Asia.  

View all direct air capture policies
Private investors are getting behind DAC
Support for DAC has come from programmes such as X-Prize (offering up to USD 100 million for as many as 4 promising carbon removal proposals, including DAC) and Breakthrough Energy’s Catalyst programme (which raises money from philanthropists, governments and companies to invest in critical decarbonisation technologies, including DAC). Additionally, in April 2022 Lowercarbon Capital Fund announced its intention to invest USD 350 million in start-ups developing technology-based CDR solutions. Private investment rounds have also been successful: in 2022 Climeworks raised the largest-ever DAC investment, equivalent to USD 650 million. 

Internationally agreed approaches to the certification and accounting of DAC are needed
The development of agreed methodologies and accounting frameworks based on life cycle assessment (LCA) for DAC – alongside other CDR approaches – will be important to support its inclusion in regulated carbon markets and national inventories, and to serve as a tool to assess the benefits of subsidy schemes for DAC. Notably, the latest IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories do not include an accounting methodology for DAC, meaning that CDR associated with DAC cannot be counted towards meeting international mitigation targets under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  
Efforts to develop carbon removal certification, including for DAC-based CDR, have commenced in Europe, the United States and Canada, as well as through initiatives such as the Mission Innovation CDR Mission and the UNFCCC Article 6.4 Supervisory Body. These efforts should be co-ordinated, with the aim of establishing internationally consistent approaches. 
The CDR field would also benefit from leading juristictions acting on transboundary projects, where financing, demand, and/or fabrication come from one jurisdiction but the facility is hosted in another jurisdiction. It is anticipated that in the future we will need a globally integrated industry for CDR, similar to that which exists today for energy, and a few early transboundary efforts would foster this development. 

The voluntary carbon market for removals is growing
The market for DAC-based CO2 removal is expanding substantially. These carbon removal services are offered exclusively through the voluntary carbon market and are being purchased mostly by single companies (including Airbus, Shopify, Swiss Re, Microsoft, UBS) or demand aggregators such as Frontier (which committed to buy USD 1 billion of permanent carbon removals, including from DACS) and Next Gen (who recently purchased CDR credits with the goal of reaching over one million CDRs by 2025, including but not exclusively from DACS) to meet their own climate targets.  
The popularity of these DAC-based carbon removal services stems mainly from their very high removal potential when associated with geological storage. Most of them are currently oversubscribed due to the very limited installed operating capacity available at present, despite the high price compared to other CDR solutions on the market (the price of the subscription varies, depending on the amount of removal purchased, from USD 600/t CO2 to USD 1 000/t CO2). 

Some private organisations have recently started working on certification initiatives for DAC-based CDR, with examples including: 
We would like to thank the following external reviewers:
Last update on 11 July 2023
This report explores the growing momentum behind direct air capture, together with the opportunities and challenges for scaling up the deployment of direct air capture technologies consistent with net zero goals. It considers the current status of these technologies, their potential for cost reductions, their future energy needs, and the optimal locations for direct air capture facilities. Finally, the report identifies the key drivers for direct air capture investment and priorities for policy action.
A key technology for net zero
Technology report — April 2022
Net Zero Emissions Guide
Technology report — September 2023
An IEA CCUS Handbook
Technology report — December 2022
An IEA CCUS Handbook
Technology report — July 2022

Flagship report — September 2020
Commentary — 31 January 2020
Get updates on the IEA’s latest news, analysis, data and events delivered twice monthly.
Lead authors
Sara Budinis
Recommendations
Carbon removal technologies such as DAC are not an alternative to cutting emissions or an excuse for delayed action, but they can be an important part of the suite of technology options used to achieve climate goals.  
For this reason, DAC needs to be demonstrated at scale, sooner rather than later, to reduce uncertainties regarding future deployment potential and costs, and to ensure that these technologies can be available to support the transition to net zero emissions and beyond.  
In the near term, large-scale demonstration of DAC technologies will require targeted government support, including through grants, tax credits and public procurement of CO2 removal. 

Technology deployment is currently benefitting from corporate-sector initiatives and pledges to become net zero or even carbon negative through the voluntary market.  
However, longer-term deployment opportunities will be closely linked to robust CO2 pricing mechanisms and accounting frameworks that recognise and value the negative emissions associated with storing CO2 captured from the atmosphere. 
Governments should continue to support the development of high-integrity mechanisms to monitor, report, and certify units of CO2 removal generated by DAC facilities. This also needs to be incorporated within larger efforts to evaluate, certify, and incentivise other forms of CDR commensurate with their prospective climate impacts. 

As an increasing number of countries make net zero pledges, the focus of decision makers has shifted to how to turn these pledges into clear and credible policy actions and strategies. To date, very few countries and companies have developed detailed strategies or pathways to achieve their net zero goals. One example is California (United States), which in November 2022 updated its carbon neutrality plan to include targets for carbon removal, prompting the introduction of new legislation aiming to expand California’s carbon removal capacity. 
A critical question for all countries is the extent to which net zero strategies will need to rely on CDR approaches alongside direct emission reductions. DAC and other CDR approaches are part of the portfolio of technologies and measures needed in a comprehensive response to climate change. Promoting transparency and planning for the anticipated role of CDR in net zero strategies can support the identification of technology, policy and market needs within countries and regions while supporting public understanding of these approaches. 
Additionally, more work is required to differentiate emissions reductions and avoided emissions from carbon removals to align with scientific recommendations. This should be incorporated in climate targets and policy, and reflected in the establishment of different credit categories for carbon markets for effective climate action. 

The speed at which the clean energy grid is built out in locations suitable for geologic carbon storage will be a significant determinant of DAC deployment across all areas of the globe. Currently, the United States is discussing expedited permitting for certain clean energy transmission projects, as well as other ways to streamline interagency permitting for delivering low-emissions electricity to the grid. Lengthy grid permitting processes could become an important obstacle to the scale-up of DAC. 

Priority innovation needs for DAC include:  
For DAC technologies, international co-operation can drive faster deployment and accelerated cost reductions through shared knowledge and reduced duplication of research efforts. International co-operation can also support the development and harmonisation of LCA methodologies for DAC technologies. International organisations and initiatives such as the IEA, Mission Innovation CDR Mission, the Clean Energy Ministerial CCUS Initiative, and the Technology Collaboration Programme on Greenhouse Gas R&D (GHG TCP/IEAGHG) can provide important platforms for knowledge-sharing and collaboration.  

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