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Carbon Capture Ahead!

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Here’s one more piece of good news from Joe Biden’s initiatives to deal with global warming: The government will fund projects to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. “Soon to be announced,” says the article, but in trying to find exactly what the article is talking about, I happened on other projects that are or will be funded. I am annoyed at the number of government web pages that contain no date.

The bottom line is that the government can move an industry forward by supporting its development and buying its products. The classic example is development of supercomputers for nuclear weapons design, which was a big factor through the last quarter of the 20th century, or, more recently, the development of COVID-19 vaccines. Now we’re going to do it for carbon capture technologies.

I think that this is one of the announcements on which the article is based. I found another couple, which seem to be talking about different programs. Actually, it might be the second of those, but the dates don’t check out.

The bottom line is that there will be a lot more activity in carbon capture. At some point, one of these demonstrations will fail, and Republicans will activate the recordings of “government can’t pick winners” or other old favorites.

What I was particularly interested in was whether what I would call “carbon capture from the atmosphere” would be funded. This is “Carbon Negative” in the illustration. The first article is not clear that processing ambient atmosphere to remove carbon dioxide would be one of the technologies funded. What I would call “carbon capture at the source,” capture at power plants or factories that produce carbon dioxide (Carbon Neutral), clearly is included in all three programs and seems to be included in “carbon capture from the atmosphere.” Processing ambient atmosphere is a much bigger challenge.

This is one of those places where I wish everyone were taught some basic thermodynamics. It takes more energy to separate something that is present at low concentrations than to separate it at high concentrations. So processing ambient atmosphere will always be more expensive and difficult than processing factory output. But it looks like both will be funded, and, at this point, it’s wise to check out all the possible technologies.

Cross-posted to Nuclear Diner

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