Direct Air Capture Projects in Two States Receive $1.2B From DOE
The U.S. Department of Energy is fueling $1.2 billion into two upcoming direct air capture facilities in Texas and Louisiana.
A pair of commercial-scale direct air capture (DAC) projects in Texas and Louisiana landed $1.2 billion from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to demonstrate processes to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air.
One of the DOE’s selected projects involves Climeworks, a Swiss company that built one of the world’s first direct air capture and storage plants in Iceland. Image used courtesy of Climeworks
The two projects are expected to remove over 2 million metric tons of CO2 annually, equal to the annual emissions of nearly 450,000 conventional gas-fueled cars. They’re the first selections under the agency’s Regional DAC Hubs program, which aims to develop a national network of large-scale carbon removal sites to displace legacy CO2 pollution. Through the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Congress appropriated $3.5 billion to fund the build-out of four regional DAC Hubs.
The DOE touts it as the world’s largest investment in engineered carbon removal, with each project expected to remove over 250 times more CO2 than the largest facility currently in operation.
A sample blueprint outlines the DOE’s vision for the DAC Hubs program. Image used courtesy of the DOE’s Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations
Direct Air Capture Facilities in Louisiana and Texas
Project Cypress in southwest Louisiana aims to capture over 1 million metric tons of CO2 annually and transfer the carbon underground via geologic storage. The project will add over 2,000 jobs, with 10% of the workforce previously employed in the fossil fuel industry.
Several entities are behind the project: Battelle, an Ohio-based nonprofit that manages some of the DOE’s national laboratories, will own the facility and serve as the prime subcontractor, while the technology will be supplied by Switzerland-based Climeworks and California’s Heirloom Carbon Technologies. In 2021, Climeworks launched the world’s first and largest DAC plant in Iceland, comprising eight collector containers with 500 tons of annual capacity each. Heirloom built a DAC facility in California to capture CO2 from the atmosphere and embed it in concrete that can be laid in the foundations of structures and buildings.
Louisiana-based Gulf Coast Sequestration will manage offtake and storage. The company has filed permits with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to construct six Class VI injection wells to permanently sequester the captured CO2 into a deep saline aquifer.
Video used courtesy of Heirloom
Texas’s South Texas DAC Hub project, located in Kleberg County south of Corpus Christi, will develop a facility to remove up to 1 million metric tons of CO2 per year, paired with a saline geologic CO2 storage site. The project will create around 2,500 jobs.
The facility will be owned by 1PointFive, a subsidiary of the Oxy Low Carbon Ventures arm of oil producer Occidental Petroleum Corp. Texas-based Worley Group will act as the engineering, procurement, and construction contractor, and Canada’s Carbon Engineering will provide the technology. Since the recent DAC Hub announcement, Occidental revealed plans to buy Carbon Engineering for $1.1 billion.
The DAC Hub’s CO2 storage capacity will be around 10,000 feet below the surface, and the facility could potentially store up to 30 million metric tonnes of CO2 annually, according to 1PointFive. Its 106,000 acres of subsurface pore space can enable up to 3 billion metric tonnes of CO2 in saline formations.
Carbon Engineering and Worley previously worked with 1PointFive on building a large-scale DAC plant at another site in Texas, estimated to capture 500,000 metric tonnes of CO2 annually upon completion in mid-2025. Construction on the project, called STRATOS, began in August 2022.
An artist’s rendering of 1PointFive’s STRATOS direct air capture facility in Ector County, Texas. Image used courtesy of 1PointFive
What Is Direct Air Capture?
Direct air capture technologies are designed to pull CO2 from the air and store it underground or convert it into carbon-containing products, such as concrete. The upcoming DAC Hubs support the Biden administration’s plan to hit net-zero emissions by 2050, which would entail removing and capturing 400 million to 1.8 billion metric tons of CO2 annually. To that end, the program aims to demonstrate the success of such technologies on a large scale.
DAC differs from carbon capture, which targets the original emissions point, such as an industrial facility. This was the focus of a recent proposal from the EPA requiring fossil fuel-fired power plants to reduce their emissions by installing carbon capture and sequestration/storage systems.
The DAC market remains nascent, partially because it’s the most expensive carbon capture application. According to the International Energy Agency, only 27 DAC plants are in operation worldwide, and another 130 facilities are in various stages of development.
Researchers worldwide are working to close DAC technologies' technical and economic limitations. For example, a recent study in Joule by researchers at the University of Toronto introduces a device using electrochemical processes to boost DAC efficiency.
The researchers noted that part of the carbon capture process involves burning natural gas to heat the salt and return the carbonates to CO2 gas to be stored underground or transitioned into carbon products. However, a life-cycle analysis of this technique shows that for every ton of CO2 captured, 300-500 kilograms of CO2 is generated, as the energy inputs in the heating step reduce the overall efficiency. Eyeing a new process to regenerate alkaline solutions, the team developed a device that operates as a fuel cell and electrolyzer that can switch between both modes to create two electrochemical reactions.