Madhu, K., Pauliuk, S., Dhathri, S., Creutzig, F.

Understanding environmental trade-offs and resource demand of direct air capture technologies through comparative life-cycle assessment

in Nature Energy, 28.10.2021

Peer Review , Land Use, Infrastructure and Transport

Direct air capture (DAC) technologies remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from ambient air through chemical sorbents. Their scale-up is a backstop in many climate policy scenarios, but their environmental implications are debated. Here we present a comparative life-cycle assessment of the current demonstration plants of two main DAC technologies coupled with carbon storage: temperature swing adsorption (TSA) and high-temperature aqueous solution (HT-Aq) DAC. Our results show that TSA DAC outperforms HT-Aq DAC by a factor of 1.3–10 in all environmental impact categories studied. With a low-carbon energy supply, HT-Aq and TSA DAC have a net carbon removal of up to 73% and 86% per ton of CO2 captured and stored. For the same climate change mitigation effect, TSA DAC needs about as much renewable energy and land occupation as a switch from gasoline to electric vehicles, but with approximately five times higher material consumption. Input requirements for chemical absorbents do not limit DAC scale-up.