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Beyond Talk: DOE's Tangible Steps Towards Direct Air Capture

This week the DOE announced 2 large awards, and 19 small ones, to further direct air capture.

The two big awards, totaling $1.1B (assuming milestones are hit), went to Battelle and Occidental Petroleum to fund direct air capture (DAC) hubs in Louisiana and Texas, respectively. These two efforts are the furthest along of any in the US, having completed front-end engineering design (FEED) studies and are designed to capture 1 million tons per year each.

The details of these large awards are sparse, but the money will arrive in phases. Occidental's carbon capture subsidiary 1PointFive states the new grant "enables 1PointFive to enter award negotiations with OCED", rather than pay for anything in particular. Battelle's initial funding appears to be limited to $50 million, with money in part intended to pay for the engineering necessary to obtain class VI permits. and likely other design and compliance measures.

Five other projects were selected for awards of about $12M each, with the aim of completing FEED studies already underway. Fourteen more grants of about $3M each were offered to enable "projects that are still formulating their Regional DAC Hub concept to conduct relevant analysis, networking and stakeholder engagement necessary to advance projects from a concept stage." The full list is available at this link. The projects were funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, and in all cases required corporate matching funds.

Most impressively, the projects pull from an incredibly diverse set of stakeholders. There are projects in Alaska and the Pacific northwest and the desert southwest and Texas and Kentucky and Illinois and California - only the northeast is left out (which makes sense because of their poor geography for storage and high cost of electricity). There are projects storing CO2 in saline aquifers and oil wells and basalts, and projects powered by solar and nuclear and biomass and geothermal energy. As political theater, there is genius in spreading the money so widely. As science, there is value in encouraging experimentation.

Bureaucracy is not always known for making wise investment decisions. But in this case the instincts to hand out a lot of small victories to secure political backing align nicely with the needs of early stage technology. We are still years away before we can conclude that DAC technology is wise investment. But this is the right way to start.

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