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Ambient CO2 Scrubbing Grifters

By June 20, 2023Energy Rant
Image shows a graphic displaying CO2 with a down arrow down to plants and text "Ambient CO2 Scrubbing Grifters."

The origin of this post is a spicy Zerohedge article, The Phony Climate Change Catastrophe, specifically, carbon capture from ambient air. That reminded me of an April article in The Wall Street Journal that referenced the same redonkulous effort by Occidental Petroleum to self-absolve its CO2 emission contributions by vacuuming CO2 from ambient air. If this sounds absurd, you have my company.

Incidentally, chief investors in this technology include Warren Buffet (Berkshire Hathaway), the largest shareholder of Occidental stock, and Bill Gates. These grifters are always first in line with their golden tin cups when there is tax money available for bad ideas – whatever it takes to make money, greater good be damned[1].

The Journal article says each Occidental carbon vacuum would extract 500,000 tons per year, and by 2035, they plan to have 135 such plants in operation. That scale would remove 67 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, equivalent to taking 3.8 million automobiles off the road. That sounds impressive, but there are 100x that number of cars in the U.S. alone, not counting trucks, agriculture, and airplanes.

The carbon vacuum contraption process works like this, per the WSJ:

  • A tennis court’s worth of fans sucks air into the contraption (see Figure 1).
  • CO2 binds with potassium hydroxide, the manufacturing of which probably releases more CO2 than the CO2 it absorbs from ambient air – but never mind because the IRA is funding it.
  • The resulting chemical, carbonate salt, is then processed into pellets, again, never mind the CO2 released in that process.
  • The pellets are heated to release pure CO2, again, carbon free, I’m sure.
  • The CO2 is compressed with a gas turbine, fired with renewable hydrogen produced by unicorn farts, to supercritical pressures for storage.

Please show us the CO2 balance, including manufacturing these contraptions, operating them, producing the chemicals, and compressing and storing the gas underground. Please. My instinct is that the system is 30% efficient on the CO2 balance alone. I.e., seven units of CO2 are released to capture ten units.

The Journal article says, “Many industry experts doubt that direct-air capture can be done economically because the amounts of air that need to be scrubbed are so large. Operating the plants themselves will require massive amounts of energy, which will need to be emission-free to avoid defeating the purpose of the effort, they say.”

Figure 1 CO2 Capture Contraption[2]

Image shows a co2 capture contraption.There is far more than the carbon released to operate these plants. How much carbon is emitted to produce the chemicals and manufacture these giant entropy-producing contraptions? Show us the entire carbon balance, Warren. Surprise us.

“Occidental executives said it would power the Permian plant with solar energy and additional renewable power from the grid, and it has also looked into potentially powering its plants with mini-nuclear reactors, according to people familiar with the matter.”

These plants will not be powered by “mini-nuclear reactors.” I’ll bet anyone they will use the net-zero electricity from the grid con. Net-zero grid electricity stifles net CO2 emission reduction efforts. I will explain how and why another day.

The Market for Net Zero Oil

There is plenty of smoke and mirrors in the message. The article says, “SK Trading International, part of the Korean conglomerate SK Group, has signed up to receive up to 200,000 barrels of net-zero oil per year for five years, according to the companies.” Here net zero would be the carbon removed by the Occidental contraption compared to the carbon released by the oil. I.e., not net carbon removed by the contraption factoring in carbon emissions to manufacture, operate, and supply with chemicals, etc.

“The production of the barrels will lock up about 100,000 metric tons of atmospheric CO2, which Occidental said is the amount of emissions the crude will produce over its lifetime.” Huh? Crude oil has a lifetime? Buildings, equipment, vehicles, and widgets have lifetimes. Crude has no lifetime. We burn it. Boom. It’s gone.

CO2 Capture Scale

Two-hundred thousand barrels of oil is nothing to the sixth power. The U.S. uses 20 million barrels per day. Let’s look at the scale of these contraptions versus global CO2 emissions.

Two sources, Carbon Brief and Statista, tell us global carbon emissions are about 40 billion tons per year, and of that, about 5 billion tons are land-use changes. I’ll come back to land-use changes in a future post. Multiple sources, including Prevention Web, tell us wildfires in the northern hemisphere alone released a record 1.76 billion tons of CO2 in 2021. Being generous, I’ll round the wildfires to 2 billion tons and only count the CO2 removed by the contraptions, not the excessive CO2 it takes to produce and operate them. The results are as follows on linear and logarithmic scales. The logarithmic scale is needed to detect any impact from the CO2-sucking contraptions.

Figure 2 CO2 to Scale

Image shows graph of Millions of Tons Annually.Regarding efforts to manage the climate, I have been known to suggest seemingly preposterous recommendations. Reflecting on this analysis of the Buffet/Gates/Occidental carbon vacuum racket, I rescind the outlandish label on one such brilliant idea. The idea harnesses the brilliance of nature over the brain of Bill Gates.

Natural Carbon Scrubbers

Here is my formerly absurd idea – plant fast-growing, carbon-voracious trees to sequester carbon to the sea floor. According to Earth Easy, yellow poplars (EPRI funded my master’s degree to study the use of these trees as renewable fuel for power generation) are a great choice for carbon sponges. After 10-20 years of rapid growth, clear-cut and replant with seedlings. Transport the logs by rail to ports. Bundle them with ballast[3] to sink them in 20,000 feet of seawater forever.

Ridiculous? An order of magnitude less ridiculous and 100x more productive than the Buffet/Gates option.

[1] Both are noted in the WSJ article funding the project and technology.


[3] I have a great idea on this but it requires a thorough explanation.

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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