CDR attracts attention and accolades

Blog Post Carbon Dioxide Removal
Published January 22, 2021

Jan Mazurek, Ph.D.

Senior Director, Aviation and Carbon Dioxide Removal

It has been an exciting and eventful week all around for climate advocates.

From the U.S. rejoining the Paris Agreement to the raise of $1B for investments in climate innovation, the momentum to turn climate pledges into action is accelerating. 

One climate solution attracting increased attention is carbon dioxide removal (CDR), which was recently profiled by the New York Times in a piece highlighting an uptick in businesses exploring CDR as a way to remove vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In a further sign of the private sector’s growing interest, Tesla CEO Elon Musk just promised a $100 million prize to spur development of the best CDR technology. 

Also this week, the U.S. Department of Energy announced this year’s Secretary Honor Award recipients, which notably included a groundbreaking study on carbon removal. Led by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and funded by ClimateWorks, the “Getting to Neutral” Carbon Emissions Team earned the award for its work on how California could reach the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2045.

A first-of-its-kind study, “Getting to Neutral: Options for Negative Carbon Emissions in California,” examines a robust suite of technologies and their costs to help California become carbon neutral – and ultimately carbon negative – by 2045. The report identifies where to find carbon removal opportunities in the state, including the opportunity to couple direct air capture with low-carbon energy sources like geothermal heat.

At ClimateWorks, we are excited to see more attention paid to carbon removal. Both natural and engineered strategies are necessary to scale as part of the global effort to end the climate crisis. But it is also important to remember that removal is not a substitution for mitigation. Frankly, the world has waited too long to mitigate and now we have to do both if we are to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

However, there are critical challenges in carbon dioxide removal that must be addressed if an effective and socially equitable portfolio of CDR options are to be scaled. Indeed, while we are heartened by private sector announcements, we can’t ignore a common concern with carbon removal: the use of CDR technology by the fossil fuel industry to delay the transition toward zero emissions. 

As CDR solutions are explored and implemented in the years to come, the technology cannot become a blank check for societies to continue with the same polluting behaviors that put us in the precarious position we are in today. There is tremendous opportunity for industry to use their infrastructure and their know-how to pull historic CO2 down from the sky and out of oceans and put it back in the ground. This would help to lead a just transition benefiting the health of all people and the planet.