Air capture- scrubbing the atmosphere

John Tierney picks up on the David Keith paper in Science .

Governments are doing practically nothing to study the removal of carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere, but this technology could be a much cheaper form of climate protection than photovoltaic cells and other approaches getting lavish support, according to an article published today in Science.

David W. Keith, a physicist at the University of Calgary, reviews some of the technologies for air capture of carbon and notes that there is not a single government program devoted specifically to that purpose. Dr. Keith estimates that less than $3 million per year in public money is currently being spent on related research, even though it could potentially be a bargain. He writes:

[Early] estimates suggest that air capture will be competitive with technologies that are getting large R.&D. investments. For example, the cost of cutting CO2 emissions by displacing carbon-intensive electricity production with roof-mounted solar photovoltaic panels can easily exceed $500 per ton of CO2. Yet even skeptics suggest that a straightforward combination of existing process technologies could probably achieve air capture at lower cost. And the fact that several groups have raised private money for commercialization suggests that there are investors who believe that it is possible to develop technologies to capture CO2 from air at costs closer to $100 than $500 per ton of CO2.

When I wrote about Richard Branson’s $25 million prize for figuring out how to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, I wondered if governments and other entrepreneurs would follow his example (and if we would someday have nanobots gobbling up carbon dioxide). So far, I guess, the answer is no, but perhaps Dr. Keith’s article will stimulate some interest. He writes: