Direct Air Capture: A Solution To Pollution?


Climeworks Direct Air Capture plant, Switzerland. Credit: © Climeworks / Julia Dunlop

Ahmed Elsayyid, Environmental Editor

At Morris Hills and nationwide, the buzz about climate change is only growing. Students here and across the world are taking initiative, raising their voices and taking action when adults are not. But wait a second: if this whole crisis was caused by putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, why can’t we just take it out?

This concept has been thought about for quite a while when discussing possible solutions to climate change. We all learned about photosynthesis in elementary school, but could we design a technology that could do what plants are famous for, but on a larger scale? Recently, this idea has been put to the test with the creation of “Direct Air Capture”, or DAC.

But could we really just suck CO2 out of the atmosphere and avoid disaster?

DAC is trying to undo a problem created by our sky-high emissions while spending a lot of resources to do so; almost any source of renewable energy could prevent a ton of carbon from reaching the atmosphere, while also costing less than DAC. The fact is that DAC is not the cheapest or most effective way to combat climate change, and it does not alleviate the need to lower CO2 emissions. However, DAC still presents itself as a powerful tool in the fight against climate change and could have an important role in filling the deficiencies of renewable technologies.

Members of the Environmental Action Club (EAC) at Morris Hills have agreed that, although existing CO2 must be removed from the atmosphere if we want to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Accord, DAC cannot be a stand-alone solution to climate change. If we aggressively reduce emissions and remove carbon that is already in our atmosphere, we create “negative emissions.”

To reach negative emissions, we need to be moving carbon from the biosphere to the geosphere. Basically, when we mine coal and use it as fuel, we are taking carbon from the geosphere, the earth, and putting it in the biosphere, the atmosphere. So the only way that we can reach negative emissions would be by burying all the carbon that we capture through DAC, but there is obviously no economic incentive for a company to do that.

Although Direct Air Capture may not be our holy grail in the fight against climate change, it definitely offers a promising technology. In combination with reducing emissions, DAC can be a major help in reversing the damage humanity has done to the earth.