Is the legacy oil sector’s investment in direct air capture a bold step towards decarbonization or a desperate bid for relevance?
The oil and gas industry is making carbon capture technologies like direct air capture (DAC) and carbon capture and storage (CCS) a pillar of their emissions reduction plans. But carbon capture is expensive, and is not yet operating on a scale to draw down emissions to net zero (seven CCS projects currently operating in Canada only capture about 0.5% of national emissions).
What’s the role for carbon capture on the road to eliminating emissions? How are oil industry incumbents evolving their business models from carbon production to removal? We spoke with expert David Keith, founder of Carbon Engineering, a Canadian carbon-removal company that was sold to U.S.-based Occidental Petroleum Corp. last year for $1.6bn, about the oil industry’s move to invest heavily in carbon capture technologies. Read on for highlights:
David Keith is a Professor in the Department of Geophysical Sciences at the University of Chicago and the Founding Faculty Director of the Climate Systems Engineering initiative.
Keith previously served as the Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics at the Harvard University School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and as Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. He led the development of Harvard’s Solar Geoengineering Research Program.
His work has ranged from the climatic impacts of large-scale wind power to elicitation of expert judgments about climate. Keith’s hardware engineering projects include the first interferometer for atoms, a high-accuracy infrared spectrometer for NASA’s ER-2 and the development of a stratospheric propelled balloon experiment for solar geoengineering. He is also the founder of Carbon Engineering, a company developing technology to capture CO2 from ambient air, and the author of A Case for Climate Engineering (MIT Press, 2013).
James Meadowcroft, PhD, is professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration at Carleton University where he has held a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Governance for Sustainable Development. He has written widely on environmental politics and policy, democratic participation and deliberative democracy, national sustainable development strategies and socio-technical transitions. Recent work focuses on energy and the transition to a low-carbon society and includes publications on carbon capture and storage (CCS), smart grids, the development of Ontario’s electricity system, the politics of socio-technical transitions and negative carbon emissions.