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Thermal removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere: energy requirements and scaling issues

Abstract

I conduct a system-level study of direct air capture of CO2 using techniques from thermal physics. This system relies on a combination of an efficient heat exchanger, radiative cooling, and refrigeration, all at industrial scale and operated in environments at low ambient temperatures. While technological developments will be required for such a system to operate efficiently, those developments rest on a long history of refrigeration expertise and technology, and they can be developed and tested at modest scale. I estimate that the energy required to remove CO2 via this approach is comparable to direct air capture by other techniques. The most challenging aspect of building a system that could remove 1 billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere per year is the power demand of 112 to 420 GW during the wintertime operational period.

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Notes

  1. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snag,_Yukon

  2. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oymyakon

  3. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vostok_Station

  4. www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/obop/brw/

  5. zehnderamerica.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/CA350-2015.03.25.pdf

  6. calc.exergyllc.com

  7. www.world-aluminium.org/statistics/#data

  8. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_power_stations

  9. www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2233rank.html

  10. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vostok_Station

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Acknowledgements

I thank Drs. M. Anthony Reynolds, Edwin J. Mierkiewicz, and Sandra Boetcher for helpful discussions and the reviewers for constructive criticisms that helped me improve and clarify this paper.

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Correspondence to Ted von Hippel.

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von Hippel, T. Thermal removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere: energy requirements and scaling issues. Climatic Change 148, 491–501 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-018-2208-0

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-018-2208-0