Earlier this year the Direct Air Capture Coalition publicly launched -- bringing together dozens of direct air capture (DAC) technology companies, NGOs, and academic institutions -- to begin laying the groundwork for the commercialization of a technology that experts see as critically important to deep decarbonization.
For DACC co-founder Nicholas Eisenberger, the coalition's launch is the culmination of 16 years of working on and advocating for the technology. Eisenberger said the first time he'd heard about technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere was back in 2006.
His father, the famed physicist Peter Eisenberger, was launching a company called Global Thermostat that would bring to market a technology that aimed to take the most abundant greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere.
Along with a colleague from Columbia's economics department, Eisenberger was hoping to build a multi-billion dollar business that would turn down the world's thermostat and mitigate the worst impacts of global warming.
Sixteen years later, the younger Eisenberger has taken over his father's mission both as the new President of Global Thermostat and as the co-founder of the Direct Air Capture Coalition -- a group whose mission is to speed up adoption and increase awareness and understanding of the potential direct air capture has to meaningfully contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
For Global Thermostat, Climeworks, and other companies that have been working on negative emission technologies for the past decade or so, the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (and the billions of dollars it contains to support their work) is a vindication after years of neglect.
"The problem was for most people it seemed very difficult and challenging and the necessity of it as we see now wasn’t understood," the younger Eisenberger said in an interview earlier this year.
"The first 10 years of this space. The experience that I, and the co-founders of Global Thermostat and the other players like Climeworks and Carbon engineering had was complete lack of interest or outright hostility. We had to explain again and again how this could work, why it was necessary … even up to... the Paris Conference of the Parties."
Now, with the science, the steady stream of climate disasters, and the technology seeming to support the thesis that Eisenberger and his father laid out 16 years ago, the need for an advocacy organization to accelerate adoption seems clear, Nicholas Eisenberger said.
"We are basically having to rewind several millions of years of nature’s working to sequester CO2 in the earth’s crust and in a span of 120 years we’ve taken it all out and put it in the atmosphere. We don’t have time," Eisenberger said. "We have to use technological means in addition to these [nature-based] strategies."
The Direct Air Capture Coalition aims to be the group that can represent every business and stakeholder trying to bring these technologies to market to help address global warming.
Carbon dioxide removal technologies face a number of challenges -- including criticism from some advocates and technologists working on climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. They're skeptical of the technology's ability to cost-effectively remove carbon dioxide at the scale that's needed -- or indeed successfully remove carbon dioxide at all.
And there's a misconception that the direct air capture technologies the coalition is advocating for is the same technology used by oil and gas companies to capture CO2 emissions only to turn around and use them for enhanced oil recovery.
That's the chief concern of the environmental engineering professor Charles Harvey and serial environmental entrepreneur, Kurt House -- the co-founder of a next-generation mining company, KoBold Metals.
"Solving climate change requires resources; misappropriating these resources makes solving the problem harder," wrote House and Harvey in a recent editorial for The New York Times. "We have no time to waste. We need to stop subsidizing oil extraction and carbon dioxide production in the name of fighting climate change and stop burning billions in taxpayer money on white elephant projects. Clean power from carbon capture and sequestration died with the success of renewable energy; it’s time to bury this technology deep underground."
The Direct Air Capture Coalition also believes there's no time to waste -- in solving the problems that these new technology companies face in an effort to bring climate solutions to the market.
"DAC has to play a significant role in carbon removal at a multi-gigaton level," Eisenberger said. "So we need to work together… Companies need good suppliers, need supportive policy, need finance, and the public needs to be aware and desirous of these solutions."
That's where Eisenberger's co-founder, and the Direct Air Capture Coalition's Senior Director, Jason Hochman, comes in.
A former employee of the New York utility, ConEdison, Hochman met Eisenberger when he decided he would devote his career to advancing carbon removal technology and started working with the advocacy groups like the OpenAir Collective.
While OpenAir advocates for carbon removal technologies broadly -- and focuses on political advocacy -- Hochman and Eisenberger realized that direct air capture technologies needed their own education and advocacy-focused policy group.
There are multiple strains of carbon removal technologies and different ways the technologies can be applied. The distinction between the applications that the DACC advocates for and the ways in which oil companies are also using similar technologies may appear subtle, but is pretty profound.
Unlike the companies that seek to balance their carbon emissions with capture technologies, DACC businesses are looking to create negative emissions. They're not removing carbon dioxide from industrial processes, but taking carbon dioxide directly from the air in an effort to reduce the total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Hochman thought the coalition's mission was so important that for the first few months of work he didn't take a salary.
Now, with 52 companies and partner non-profit organizations as coalition members and supportive policy increasingly on the agenda, with recent wins like the recent New York state Carbon Dioxide Removal Leadership Act, direct air capture companies and the coalition have real budgets and an opportunity to make a real impact, Hochman said.
With billions in funding on the way for carbon removal technologies through the Inflation Reduction Act and the bipartisan CHIPS Act, clarifying and educating policymakers and the public on the benefits of direct air capture and other carbon dioxide removal technologies is even more important.
"This community is still so small and emerging [and] everyone is kind of helping others out and working toward the same goal which is getting carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere," Hochman said in an interview. "That’s why it’s such an exciting and fun space. Every single person who is working on this has the potential to punch above their weight."
Accelerating the adoption of these technologies is crucial, Hochman said. The industry has 88 months to solve the problem and start deploying these technologies quickly enough to reach the goals scientists have set for the industry by 2050, according to Hochman.
Both the UN's most recent report and independent research from climate scientists and the International Energy Agency point to the need for direct air capture technologies to successfully keep the world at the 1.5 degree warming target.
"We need to be in this space to help to connect people and help to educate people," said Hochman. "The train is lieaving the station in so many ways but when you go out and talk to people they have no friggin idea about what [direct air capture] is."