How DAC technology is a breath of fresh air - Amy Ruddock

During the Industrial Revolution, as population density rocketed, entire cities were threatened by the spread of disease through untreated drinking water. Necessity fuels progress, and the water treatment infrastructure we rely on today was born out of the urgency to overcome this challenge. Addressing our greenhouse gas emissions requires a similar approach: identify the problem, find feasible solutions, and scale them.

Experts, including the UK Climate Change Committee (CCC), agree that to avoid the worst impacts of climate change the world will not only need to drastically reduce emissions, but also remove vast amounts of existing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. According to the CCC, the UK needs to remove 44-112 million tonnes every year by 2050.

Think of the problem of excess CO2 in the atmosphere like a bathtub filling with water. Our first instinct when faced with an overflowing tub is to turn off the tap. Similarly, the world’s attention has mostly been focused on reducing the CO2 we add to the atmosphere each day. Fortunately, a range of solutions exist to support this critical step, including renewable energy, electrification, and clean hydrogen. However, unless we can the turn the tap off completely, even a dripping tap will still overflow the tub. Just as we can drain a bathtub by pulling out the plug, we must also prioritize solutions that remove CO2 directly from the atmosphere.

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Direct Air Capture (DAC) is a technology that captures CO2 straight out of the air so it can be securely and safely stored deep underground. This form of greenhouse gas removal is permanent, measurable and verifiable – traits highlighted by Oxford University as key to ensuring offsetting activities legitimately support net zero ambitions.

DAC may sound like science fiction, but it is a proven technology that is being deployed globally. Carbon Engineering spent the last decade optimising a large-scale DAC technology that can capture one million tonnes of CO2 per year at each facility – equivalent to the work of 40 million trees, at a fraction of the land and water requirements. In partnership with Storegga, engineering is underway on a plant targeted for North-East Scotland, and in the US, construction of the world’s first one-megaton DAC facility is planned to begin in 2022.

Scotland’s world-leading 2045 net zero target means it will be at the forefront of global greenhouse gas removal efforts. It has unique advantages that support DAC deployment, including an extensive workforce with transferable skills, abundant renewable energy, and significant offshore geological storage capacity.

DAC projects will create thousands of local jobs and help accelerate net zero efforts by compensating for difficult-to-decarbonise sectors, such as aviation. Scotland could export greenhouse gas removal services to the world, building a new industry out of addressing climate change.

Just like our need for water treatment, we now need solutions that clean excess CO2 out of our air. The good news: DAC technology is feasible, affordable, and available today. If Scotland moves quickly to support Direct Air Capture commercialisation, it can lead the world in deployment of this critical air treatment infrastructure.

Amy Ruddock is VP Europe for Carbon Engineering Ltd. Amy is writing in support of the Back the Scottish Cluster campaign, pressing the case for the Scottish Cluster in the BEIS cluster sequencing process.

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