Engineered Carbon Dioxide Removal: Scalability and Durability

Given the scale of the climate crisis, the short timeframe for action, and insufficient progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, there is broad scientific agreement that large-scale deployment of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies and approaches are needed to counter rising atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide. CDR encompasses a suite of solutions, both engineered and nature-based, that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and durably store it.

The climate crisis requires countries to cooperate on developing climate solutions, including engineered CDR technologies, that can be deployed at scale around the world. While nature-based CDR approaches are cheaper and more readily available in the short term, engineered CDR technologies can bring many advantages in addressing the climate crisis, including larger removal potentials, more durable carbon sequestration, greater scalability, and more locational flexibility. At the moment, however, these technologies are constrained by cost, energy needs, and potential land and climate impacts. There are also risks that relying too heavily on the eventual availability and scalability of engineered CDR will lead to delays in other mitigation efforts and continuation of business-as-usual practices. Advancing CDR technologies must not be used as an excuse for inaction on other carbon mitigation strategies.

Equally important, climate justice must be embedded in strategies to accelerate development and deployment of engineered CDR technologies. Engineered CDR projects could have impacts on local communities—either directly or by extending the lifetime of polluting industries—highlighting the need for robust stakeholder and community engagement. As CDR deployment progresses, there should also be opportunities for community ownership of CDR benefits, as well as efforts to ensure a just and well-managed transition of skills and expertise into new jobs in the emerging carbon removal sector.

A range of policy interventions could accelerate the equitable deployment of engineered CDR technologies, including the following:

  • Infrastructure development: supporting development of regional carbon dioxide transport networks and accelerating commercial carbon dioxide storage projects.
  • Regulatory framework: improving the permitting process for Class VI wells (for permanent geologic storage), providing a clear federal regulatory framework for siting of interstate carbon dioxide pipelines, and developing a clear framework for long-term liability related to stored carbon dioxide.
  • Market-based mechanisms: using carbon price revenues to support carbon removal projects, making CDR projects eligible for credits in clean energy standards, and requiring federal procurement of carbon removals.
  • Financial incentives: promoting the improved 45Q tax credit and expanding the investment tax credit to support deployment of engineered CDR.
  • Research, development, and demonstration (RD&D): directing the Department of Energy to clarify its Carbon Negative Shot plans to help CDR technologies scale and expanding RD&D investments in carbon dioxide utilization technologies.
  • Equitable transition: establishing requirements for funding applicants to show local economic and social benefits, expanding apprenticeship programs and grants, and modernizing federal environmental justice engagement.

Accelerating the equitable development and deployment of engineered CDR solutions by 2030 creates a greater chance of achieving gigaton-scale removals and ultimately net-zero emissions by 2050.