Biden-Backed Direct Air Capture Company Opens First Facility

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A direct air capture (DAC) firm backed with subsidies from the federal government opened its first facility in California on Thursday, according to The New York Times.

Heirloom Carbon, which aims to remove 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by 2035, opened the facility to considerable fanfare, with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm reportedly planning a visit to mark the occasion, according to the NYT. The company is poised to receive massive subsidies from the federal government to suck up carbon from the atmosphere and repurpose it by sealing it permanently into concrete.

The facility that opened Thursday, located in Tracy, California, is capable of absorbing a maximum of about 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year, which is equivalent to the exhaust generated by about 200 cars annually, according to the NYT. (RELATED: GE Announces Successful Test Of Green Tech That Sucks Carbon From The Air)

The company has already agreed to a deal with Microsoft to remove 315,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which could be worth more than $56 million worth of $180-per-ton tax credits made available by the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), President Joe Biden’s signature climate bill, according to the NYT. Heirloom has not publicized its costs, but many experts approximate that DAC costs between $600 and $1,000 per ton; the company is aiming to eventually have its costs land at about $100 per ton.

Heirloom pledged in October that it will refuse any investment from oil and gas firms or deploy its technology in ways that further enable the use of fossil fuels. Two months prior, in August, the Energy Department announced that Heirloom as one of the companies it had chosen to receive some of the $1.2 billion of taxpayer money it is shelling out to stimulate DAC projects.

However, DAC is still an unproven technology at scale, and some reports suggest that it may not be the climate solution that some in the Biden administration believe it to be. Past attempts to develop carbon capture and storage facilities have failed, and nearly 90% of the proposed carbon capture capacity in the global power sector failed at the implementation stage or was suspended earlier than scheduled, according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

DAC may actually emit more carbon dioxide than it captures while relying on toxic chemicals, according to a January report from Food and Water Watch, a climate-focused nonprofit group that advocates for green policies. DAC technology is also more costly per ton of removed carbon dioxide than other emissions mitigation techniques, largely because of the energy-intensive process of separating carbon dioxide from ambient air using chemical products, according to a May 2022 report from the World Resources Institute, a group that seeks to “fundamentally transform the world’s food, land and water,” according to its website.

DAC technology is set to play a key role in the Biden administration’s larger push to reach net zero carbon emissions in the American power sector by 2035 and a net zero economy by 2050, as they will theoretically allow for mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions that cannot be avoided.

Heirloom, the Energy Department and the White House all did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

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