DAC-Only Flying: 100% Climate-friendly Aviation Now

Flying is to climate action what bacon is to vegetarians. It’s the rock that tempts the weak from the path of righteousness. With DAC-only flying, stepping on a plane and flying could become completely climate-friendly.

Flying causes huge amounts of CO2 emissions compared to trains, cars or anything else people commonly do, and carbon offsetting is controversial and opaque – in 2021, carbon offset forests are being burnt down by climate change-induced wildfires and with that and other developments, the very potential for dealing with CO2 emissions is being taken away.

Let’s change that.

Let’s tell the government to make airlines extract the CO2 out of the atmosphere that their planes put there. Every arrival and every departure must pay cash up-front to fund the removal of the CO2 emissions from the atmosphere by the only guaranteed method known – Direct Air Capture.

So sign up to Carbon Watchdog, fund us on this campaign and we’ll create:

  • a letter with a million signatures to hand over to law makers in government
  • an official government petition to trigger a debate in parliament, congress, the senate
  • an advertising campaign to push the idea out to the general public
  • a bill sponsored by a sympathetic law maker to introduce the required legislation
  • sister campaigns in the North America, Europe and other aviation hubs
  • a way to hurtle through the skies in a thin metal tube without destroying the climate!

The DAC FAQ: does DAC-Only Flying make sense?

In many cases, yes. Carbon offsetting is a catch-all term for all situations where people or businesses claim to be helping the climate, for instance, by not chopping down their forest. In my books, that’s blackmail, and even if it helps, next year your offset forests could go up in smoke, because of climate change, ironically.

Plus the prices charged when these offsets are sold as a service are rock-bottom. $8 per tonne of CO2 sounds significant, but the prices are mostly negligible compared to the product whose emissions they claim to offset. Carbon offsetting is the engine of the Golden Age of Greenwash.

However, for those who do their due diligence, there are ways to get your CO2 drawn back down out of the air. Admittedly, not “your” CO2, but any CO2 will do. It is just very expensive. Welcome to the world of DAC. So when somebody starts selling the promise to drawdown CO2 from the atmosphere, in other words “carbon drawdown as a service” to use the correct business administration term, it is also carbon offsetting. The problem is not entirely solved since the CO2 must be stored or rendered harmless somehow.

DAC is different. It stands for Direct Air Capture of CO2. A machine, something like a dehumidifier, sucks the CO2 out of the air. What happens to the CO2 next though is crucial.

The worst option is just to let it go again, but that’s what happens when the DAC company sells the CO2 for use in fizzy drinks, the medical industry or to help tomatoes grow faster. Almost as bad is what the fossil fuel industry does, using the gas to pump into their oil wells to flush out more fossil fuels.

A good solution offered by Climeworks is to pump the CO2 down into basalt rock where it crystallises – literally turning to stone. Ideally the airlines will take their CO2 and turn it back into aviation fuel known as “e-kerosene”. This fuel supply would become part of circular economy – the Holy Grail of sustainability.

No, not really because DAC machines can operate anywhere, while Carbon Capture, also known as CCS or CCUS or BECCS even, involves capturing the CO2 from burning oil, coal or biomass in a power station. It’s a different process and it has been far from successful – mainly because the aim is to capture all the CO2 emissions from generating electricity. The target is a huge amount, hundreds of times more CO2 than the emissions from aviation which this campaign proposes.

The amount of CO2 captured so far in 20 years of trying is less than 1 Megatonne. Current world CO2 emissions are 40 Gigatonnes per year, 40 thousand times that. The ramp-up required would be miraculous.

Yes, it will make flying more expensive as the airlines are pushed into funding intense investment in Direct Air Capture to build out the industry, innovate and reduce costs.

The DAC industry itself – currently only 20 start-up firms – envisages the costs of Direct Air Capture falling by a factor of 10 to 100 times as it is scaled up.

Can the world afford more expensive flights? Well, can it afford climate change?

Up until now the aviation industry has had a free pass when compared to industries like power generation with their emissions trading schemes.

Let’s change it.

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Resources

Carbon Capture keeps proving its critics right. https://medium.com/lobbywatch/carbon-capture-keeps-proving-its-critics-right-what-comes-next-32ac9750a7aa

Abdulla A., Hanna R., Schell K.R. et al: Explaining successful and failed investments in U.S. carbon capture and storage using empirical and expert assessments Environmental Research Letters 16 014036 (2020)

Wizz Air aviation industry CEO big mouth says it like it is: Sustainable Fuel, Offsets are ‘Greenwashing’ https://fairfuel.atmosfair.de/en/plant-technical-details/

Climeworks want Germany to support direct air capture like they supported wind and solar – interview https://www.cleanenergywire.org/news/support-direct-air-capture-germany-supported-wind-and-solar-climeworks

A Charter Flight Broker Offers ‘Permanent’ CO2 Solution https://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/business-aviation/2021-09-30/swiss-charter-broker-offers-permanent-co2-solution

Hanna R., Abdulla A., Xu Y. et al.: Emergency deployment of direct air capture as a response to the climate crisis. Nature Communications 12, 368 (2021) – this explains some of the economics involved and how it would hinge on immediate investment to boost the future capacity for upscaling.

A new factory in Germany is turning CO2 into e-kerosene. https://fairfuel.atmosfair.de/en/plant-technical-details/

McGinnis, Rob: CO2-to-fuels renewable gasoline and jet fuel can soon be price competitive with fossil fuels. Joule 4.3: 509-511 (2020)

Photo by Josue Aguazia on Unsplash
Carbon Offsetting – an overview
Carbon Offsetting sucks CO2 out of the air – or just sucks?