Can carbon removal become a trillion-dollar business?

“TODAY WE SEE the birth of a new species,” declared Julio Friedmann, gazing across the bleak landscape. Along with several hundred grandees, the renowned energy technologist had travelled to a remote corner of Texas’s oil patch called Notrees at the end of April at the invitation of 1PointFive, a division of Occidental Petroleum, an American oil firm, and of Carbon Engineering, a Canadian technology startup backed by Bill Gates. The species in question is in some ways akin to a tree—but not the biological sort, nowhere to be seen on the barren terrain. Rather, it is an arboreal artifice: the first commercial-scale “direct air capture” (DAC) plant in the world.

Like a tree, DAC sucks carbon dioxide from the air, concentrates it and makes it available for some use. In the natural case, that use is creating organic molecules through photosynthesis. For DAC, it can be things for which humans already use CO2, like adding fizz to drinks, encouraging faster plant growth in…

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