Mon, May 16, 2011 - Page 9 News List

The race is on to cash in
by capturing carbon

Despite a study that showed removing carbon dioxide for ambient air was not cost effective, numbers of researchers and entrepreneurs see pursuing the idea as a lucrative and worthy investment in the future

By John Collins Rudolf  /  NY Times News Service, NEW YORK

The idea of capturing carbon in ambient air has found some bipartisan support in the US Senate, where a bill to reward researchers who develop carbon-removal technology was reintroduced last month with a Republican sponsor.

Klaus Lackner, a physicist and director of the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, who has worked on the technology, criticized the American Physical Society study as too narrowly focused, saying it had only analyzed outdated technology.

Lackner said his design, which uses a plastic that absorbs carbon dioxide when dry and releases it to the air when wet, would eventually be capable of capturing the gas for far less than US$660 a tonne.

“I can assure you that if I believed it would cost [US$660 a tonne], I would have given up long ago,” he said.

David also said the report had failed to take into account the use of captured carbon dioxide as a feedstock for biofuels, like those made from algae.

“What we’re into is making fuels,” he said. “If you can grab CO2 from the atmosphere and can do it economically, you can find yourself in the midst of the fuel business.”

Desmond said his group had struggled to get sufficient data from private companies engaged in research into direct air capture. In the absence of data, claims that the process could be done cheaply were almost impossible to verify, he said.

“In the big scheme of things, those numbers don’t seem credible,” he said. “That’s my concern.”

Other analysts had mixed views. In an e-mail, Sasha Mackler, director for energy innovation at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington-based institute, agreed that direct air capture of carbon dioxide was probably decades away from making economic sense. However, the market for alternative fuels could make the process far more profitable than forecast in the report, Mackler said.

“We are at far too early a stage to predict how this field will emerge in the years ahead,” she said. “Now is not the time to be taking options off the table.”

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