Chevron’s Fig Leaf: A Case Study of Carbon Engineering’s Direct Air Capture Plan

  • The IPCC’s Global Warming of 1.5 degrees C report features carbon capture in 3 of its 4 scenarios, but global investment in actual carbon capture plans is limited compared to the scale of the challenge. Chevron, BHP and Occidental recently invested a substantial portion of $68 million, roughly 1% of the global carbon capture expenditure of the past decade, into a single company in a small town in British Columbia. It’s worth assessing Carbon Engineering further.


    Carbon Engineering has built a carbon direct air-capture proof of concept. Direct-air-capture’s promise is to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere by mechanical means. Its reality is that it’s orders of magnitude too small for the scale of the problem, is incredibly expensive and that there’s no useful market for the captured CO2. The only market for their solution is enhanced oil recovery which negates any benefits. Its promised air-to-fuel approach would lead to a fossil fuel substitute or additive that would be in the range of 25 times the cost and 35 times the CO2 emissions than just using electricity in electric vehicles. If the money had been spent on renewable generation instead, they could drive electric cars 130 times as far with much lower CO2 emissions.

    The first rule of being deep in a hole is to stop digging. It’s not like the jury is out on this, except for people like David Keith and Chevron. Experts such as Dr. Mark Z. Jacobson of Stanford and Dr. Sgouris Sgouridis at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi agree that there is no warming world in which burning natural gas to capture carbon from the air makes sense, both asserting that building renewable generation instead is rational. Chevron, BHP and Occidental have purchased a PR fig leaf which might incidentally allow them to pump more oil from played out oil fields.


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