Why is direct air capture of CO2 a dangerous distraction?

Current plans to reduce CO2 back to safe levels demand that we capture billions of tons of CO2 per year  as soon as possible. Many of these plans need technology that doesn’t exist yet and we hope will be invented. Hope is not a strategy. 

The range of costs for DAC vary between $250 and $600 per tonne today. Optimists say this might drop to $150 per tonne in five to ten years. Costs are high because of expensive energy, infrastructure and maintenance. Genuine tree planting projects quote about $15 per tonne.

There are about 20 DAC units worldwide capturing less than 10000 tonnes CO2 per year. IPCC forecasts need 1 billion tonne CO2 capture per year to meet targets so we are 5 orders of magnitude out. 

Use of the CO2 
The largest market for CO2 today is enhanced oil recovery (EOR), which is controversiallly used to increase fossil fuel production. This sounds counter productive.

Track record 
All direct air capture systems so far have failed economically or technically. 

Opportunity Cost 
The attraction of big shiny infrastructure takes away investment from less glamorous projects. Thousands of tons of steel, copper and concrete resources are diverted away from tried and tested wind and solar technology.

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Photo credit  -Climeworks’ first commercial direct air capture plant, based in Hinwil, Switzerland. The fans draw in air, where the CO2 in that air reacts with chemicals that selectively bind it. Photo by Climeworks