Earth, Space, and Environmental Chemistry

How (Carbon) Negative Is Direct Air Capture? Life Cycle Assessment of an Industrial Temperature-Vacuum Swing Adsorption Process



Current climate targets require negative emissions. Direct air capture (DAC) is a promising negative emission technology, but energy and materials demands lead to trade-offs with indirect emissions and other environmental impacts. Here, we show by Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) that the first commercial DAC plants in Hinwil and Hellisheiði can achieve negative emissions already today with carbon capture efficiencies of 85.4 % and 93.1 %. Climate benefits of DAC, however, depend strongly on the energy source. When using low-carbon energy, as in Hellisheiði, adsorbent choice and plant construction become important with up to 45 and 15 gCO2e per kg CO2 captured, respectively. Large-scale deployment of DAC for
1 % of the global annual CO2 emissions would not be limited by material and energy availability. Other environmental impacts would increase by less than 0.057 %. Energy source and efficiency are essential for DAC to enable both negative emissions and low-carbon fuels.


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Supplementary material

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Supplementary Material