Processes for capturing carbon from factories and fossil-fuel fired power plants have garnered significant attention as a potential pathway for large-scale reductions in emissions, and several pilot projects have been initiated or planned. While this emerging technology may one day play a significant role in an overall mitigation strategy, currently it is neither ready for deployment at scale nor is it a silver bullet.
Although carbon air capture technologies have garnered some investment and significant interest from high-profile leaders around the world, thus far air capture technologies have only been deployed on a pilot project basis, and currently the cost per ton of CO2 removed from the atmosphere using such technologies remains prohibitively expensive, nor has a successful business model been developed for such technologies absent a significant price on carbon.
The air capture field received a significant attention boost with the announcement of the Virgin Earth Challenge (VEC) in February 2007 by Sir Richard Branson and Al Gore. The official statement pledged a $25 million award “to the individual or group who are able to demonstrate a commercially viable design which will result in the net removal of anthropogenic, atmosphere green house gases,” based in part on “the belief that history has shown that prizes of this nature encourage technological advancements for the good of mankind.”