Direct Carbon Capture Offsets Explained: All You Need to Know

Direct Carbon Capture Offsets Explained: All You Need to Know

By
Grace Smoot

Read Time:16 Minutes

Follow
this site

follow follow

Impactful Ninja is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more Learn more .

Affiliate Disclosure

Hey fellow impactful ninja ?

You may have noticed that Impactful Ninja is all about providing helpful information to make a positive impact on the world and society. And that we love to link back to where we found all the information for each of our posts.

  • Most of these links are informational-based for you to check out their primary sources with one click.

  • But some of these links are so-called "affiliate links" to products that we recommend.

Why do we add these product links?

First and foremost, because we believe that they add value to you. For example, when we wrote a post about the environmental impact of long showers, we came across an EPA recommendation to use WaterSense showerheads. So we linked to where you can find them. Or, for many of our posts, we also link to our favorite books on that topic so that you can get a much more holistic overview than one single blog post could provide.

And when there is an affiliate program for these products, we sign up for it. For example, as Amazon Associates, we earn from qualifying purchases.

What do these affiliate links mean for you?
  1. First, and most importantly, we still only recommend products that we believe add value for you.

  2. When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission - but at no additional costs to you.

  3. And when you buy something through a link that is not an affiliate link, we won’t receive any commission but we’ll still be happy to have helped you.

What do these affiliate links mean for us?
  1. When we find products that we believe add value to you and the seller has an affiliate program, we sign up for it.

  2. When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission (at no extra costs to you).

  3. And at this point in time, all money is reinvested in sharing the most helpful content with you. This includes all operating costs for running this site and the content creation itself.

What does this mean for me personally?

You may have noticed by the way Impactful Ninja is operated that money is not the driving factor behind it. It is a passion project of mine and I love to share helpful information with you to make a positive impact on the world and society. However, it's a project in that I invest a lot of time and also quite some money.

Eventually, my dream is to one day turn this passion project into my full-time job and provide even more helpful information. But that's still a long time to go.

Stay impactful,

The global average concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere registers at over 400 parts per million. In the scope of carbon offsets, direct carbon capture (DCC) could play a crucial role in lowering this level because it is one way to permanently remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. So, we had to ask: What are direct carbon capture offsets really, and could they help us mitigate climate change?

Direct carbon capture (DCC) offsets are a specific type of carbon offset that uses specialized machinery to suck CO2 from the atmosphere and then store it permanently. DCC offsets are virtually immediate and one of the most effective solutions; however, they are also expensive and yet to be scaled.

Keep reading to find out all about what direct carbon capture offsets are, how they work, how effective and efficient they are, what their pros and cons are, and what the best ones are. 

At the end of the article, we’ll also share with you how these offsets can help mitigate climate change and what better alternatives to them are. 

The Big Picture of Direct Carbon Capture Offsets

Carbon offsets play a crucial role in reducing our carbon footprint, the amount of CO2 emissions associated with an individual or an entity. 

Carbon footprint: the amount of greenhouse gasses and specifically carbon dioxide emitted by something (such as a person’s activities or a product’s manufacture and transport) during a given period

Merriam Webster

Basically, a carbon footprint is the amount of carbon emitted by an activity or an organization which includes GHG emissions from fuel that we burn directly and GHG emissions from manufacturing the products that we use.

One way to reduce our carbon footprint is via the use of carbon offsets. These are reductions in GHG emissions that are measured in tons of CO2 equivalents and are bought and sold through international brokers, online retailers, and trading platforms. 

Carbon offset: a way for a company or person to reduce the level of carbon dioxide for which they are responsible by paying money to a company that works to reduce the total amount produced in the world, for example by planting trees”

Oxford Dictionary

Essentially, carbon offsets are reductions in GHG emissions that are used to compensate for emissions occurring elsewhere. They do not directly reduce your carbon footprint, instead they make others reduce their carbon footprint to compensate for your carbon footprint. 

Carbon offsets reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions beyond what we each can achieve through individual actions. Direct carbon capture (DCC) offsets are a specific type of carbon offset that remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it permanently in geological reservoirs.

Direct carbon capture: the process of storing carbon dioxide that has been collected and removed from the atmosphere, in solid or liquid form”

Oxford Dictionary

DCC involves plants that extract carbon from the atmosphere. The captured carbon can then be pumped deep underground, often at depths of 1 kilometer (0.6 miles), and stored in depleted oil reserves, coalbeds, or saline aquifers.

What are direct carbon capture offsetsDirect carbon capture offsets are a specific type of carbon offset that focus on the practice of carbon removal, or eliminating carbon from the atmosphere.
How do direct carbon capture offsets workDCC projects reduce CO2 emissions via the use of specialized machinery that sucks CO2 from the atmosphere and pumps it into underground geological formations, where it is permanently stored.
How effective are direct carbon capture offsetsDCC offsets have a low rate of carbon re-emission, a low land-usage requirement, and a low life-cycle carbon footprint. They are also permanent and immediate, but they do not reduce your own carbon emissions.
What are the 7 pros of direct carbon capture offsets#1: DCC offsets permanently remove carbon from the atmosphere.
#2: DCC plants have a low rate of carbon re-emission when the plant is operated by low-carbon electricity, making them effective at removing carbon.
#3: DCC removes CO2 emissions immediately upon operation of the DCC machines.
#4: DCC plants can have low land-usage requirements depending on the type of plant and the energy source that powers it.
#5: DCC offsets have a low life-cycle carbon footprint.
#6: DCC offsets improve air quality and protect ecosystems.
#7: DCC offsets allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individually.
What are the 3 cons of direct carbon capture offsets#1: DCC offsets are the most expensive method of carbon removal.
#2: DCC offsets are not yet at a scale where they can compensate for our global carbon emissions.
#3: DCC offsets do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing.
What are the best direct carbon capture offsetsThe best direct carbon capture offsets are offered by Climeworks, Novocarbo, and Heirloom that all capture CO2 from the air and store it permanently. In addition, Captura capture and store CO2 with the help of ocean water and Carbin Minerals via the natural process of weathering and mineralization.
How can direct carbon capture offsets help mitigate climate changeDCC offsets eliminate fossil-fuel derived carbon from our atmosphere which, if left untreated, can remain there for tens of thousands of years and exacerbate the negative effects of climate change.

What Are Direct Carbon Capture Offsets

Direct carbon capture (DCC) offsets are a technology-based carbon offset solution, where plants are constructed that suck CO2 out of the air and store it in underground geological formations. 

Direct carbon capture offsets are a specific type of carbon offset that focus on the practice of carbon removal, or eliminating carbon from the atmosphere. It is one way to mitigate the adverse effects of carbon emissions that occur once they enter our atmosphere.

How Do Direct Carbon Capture Offsets Work

In general, direct carbon capture (DCC) works by sucking atmospheric air into specialized machines which remove the CO2 so it can be pumped deep underground and stored in geological formations. CO2 reduction occurs immediately, making DCC an effective way to reduce CO2 emissions. 

DCC projects reduce CO2 emissions via the use of plants that literally remove CO2 from the air:

  • For liquid DCC systems, air is passed through chemical solutions to remove the CO2.
  • For solid DCC systems, sorbent filters are heated and placed under a vacuum to release CO2

In both cases of liquid and solid DCC systems:

  1. CO2-free air is released into the atmosphere, 
  2. and the captured CO2 is then mixed with water and pumped several hundred meters underground to be stored permanently in geological formations. 
  3. The end result is less CO2 in the atmosphere and more CO2 stored beneath the surface of the Earth.

DCC removes CO2 emissions immediately upon operation of the DCC machines. Once air is sucked into the machines, the CO2 is filtered out and undergoes a separate process to store it underground. Also, the majority of captured CO2 is not re-emitted once it has been captured.

Related: Are you interested in learning more about the big picture of direct carbon capture offsets? Check out the full article here: “What Are Direct Carbon Capture Offsets and How Do They Work? The Big Picture

How Effective and Efficient Are Direct Carbon Capture Offsets

In terms of efficiency, direct carbon capture (DCC) offsets have a low rate of carbon re-emission, a low land-usage requirement, and a low life-cycle carbon footprint.

In terms of effectiveness, DCC offsets are effective at mitigating climate change because they are permanent and immediate, but they do not reduce your own carbon emissions.

DCC offset projects are efficient at reducing CO2 emissions because they:

DCC offsets are effective at mitigating climate change because they:

  • Permanently remove carbon from the atmosphere
  • Remove CO2 emissions immediately upon operation of the DCC machines

However, DCC offsets do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing. This occurs when emissions are only offset and not reduced from the source, and the consumer is deceived into thinking they are offsetting their emissions but in reality they are not. This is why we should first reduce our emissions before relying on offsets.

Related: Are you interested in learning more about how effective and efficient direct carbon capture offsets are? Check out the full article here: “How Effective and Efficient Are Direct Carbon Capture Offsets? Here Are the Facts

What Are The Pros and Cons of Direct Carbon Capture Offsets

Direct carbon capture (DCC) offsets are permanent, immediate, improve air quality and protect ecosystems, have low rates of carbon re-emission, have low land-usage requirements, and have a low carbon footprint across their life cycle stages. They also allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individually.

However, DCC offsets are also expensive, are not yet scaled to compensate for all of our global carbon emissions, and do not reduce your own carbon emissions.

What Are the 7 Pros of Direct Carbon Capture Offsets

DCC offsets have various pros that make them an effective, long-term solution to reducing global atmospheric CO2 levels.

7 Pros of Direct Carbon Capture OffsetsQuick Facts
#1: DCC offsets permanently remove carbon from the atmosphereDirect carbon capture (DCC) offsets are a specific type of carbon offset that remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it permanently in geological reservoirs. 
#2: DCC plants have a low rate of carbon re-emission when the plant is operated by low-carbon electricity, making them effective at removing carbonDCC facilities require energy to operate, they can re-emit only small amounts of CO2 if powered by low-carbon energy sources (i.e., solar or wind power).
#3: DCC removes CO2 emissions immediately upon operation of the DCC machinesCO2 emissions reductions from direct carbon capture (DCC) offsets occur as soon as the machines become operational. Once the machines start sucking in atmospheric air, CO2 removal begins.
#4: DCC plants can have low land-usage requirements depending on the type of plant and the energy source that powers itThe land usage requirement for direct carbon capture (DCC) offsets is relatively low, averaging between 0.4 and 66km2 needed to capture 1 million tons of CO2.
#5: DCC offsets have a low life-cycle carbon footprintBuilding: If the DCC plant takes energy from the traditional power grid, then the land requirement would be little to none and the carbon footprint would be lower. 
Operating: Using low-carbon energy sources can help keep the carbon footprint of this phase very low, and DCC plants can have an average carbon re-emission rate as low as 10%
Building Back: DCC power plants have an estimated average life expectancy of 20 years if properly maintained. CO2 emissions here would occur when utilizing construction equipment to decommission the plant and perform land restoration. 
#6: DCC offsets improve air quality and protects ecosystemsRemoving carbon emissions from the atmosphere via DCC would lead to improved public health in terms of asthma, respiratory allergies, airway diseases, and lung cancer. Removing carbon from the atmosphere via DCC also promotes healthy ecosystems, which have been linked with cleaner air, water, and food
#7: DCC offsets allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individuallyWe already have governmental-level policies in place to reduce carbon emissions, but DCC carbon offsets allow us to reduce emissions from activities where sustainable alternatives are not yet widely available. 

What Are the 3 Cons of Direct Carbon Capture Offsets

Understanding the drawbacks of DCC offsets is important when implementing the technology on a large scale in order to mitigate climate change.

3 Cons of Direct Carbon Capture OffsetsQuick Facts
#1: DCC offsets are the most expensive method of carbon removalDirect carbon capture (DCC) offsets currency range anywhere from $250-$650 per ton, the highest out of all carbon removal methods. This cost varies depending on the type of technology.
#2: DCC offsets are not yet at a scale where they can compensate for our global carbon emissionsCurrently, direct carbon capture (DCC) offsets are also not scaled enough to keep pace with our global carbon emissions. Because there are relatively few companies engaged in DCC practices, the amount of carbon they can remove is also limited. 
#3: DCC offsets do not reduce you own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashingIf emissions are only offset and not reduced from the source, this could lead to greenwashing, when the consumer is deceived into thinking they are offsetting their emissions but in reality they are not. 
Related: Are you interested in learning more about the pros and cons of direct carbon capture offsets? Check out the full article here: “Direct Carbon Capture Offsets: All 7 Pros and 3 Cons Explained

What Are the 10 Best Direct Carbon Capture Offsets

The market for carbon offsets was small in the year 2000, but by 2010 it had already grown to represent nearly $10 billion worldwide. The voluntary carbon offset market (VCM) is where everyday consumers can purchase carbon offsets to offset their carbon emissions. 

The Ecosystem Marketplace predicts the VCM can grow to $50B by the year 2050. And because DCC offsets are effective and efficient at reducing carbon emissions, they are predicted to make up an increasingly larger share of this market.

On the VCM, Climeworks is the leading business-to-consumer provider of DCC offsets. But there are others using biochar, mineralization, concrete, and the ocean to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and permanently lock it away for decades. Below are our favorite direct carbon capture offsets.

Direct Carbon Capture Offset CompanyQuick Facts
ClimeworksCarbon offset purchases support the practice of direct CO2 removal, where specialized machines remove CO2 directly from the air and store it in rock formations underground.
NovocarboNovocarbo uses pyrogenic carbon capture and storage, which converts CO2 into regenerative energy and biochar. The biochar can be used as soil, as a replacement for cement, and in regenerative agriculture.
HeirloomHeirloom’s technology speeds up the process of natural mineralization, whereby minerals absorb CO2 from the air. The CO2 is then injected underground and stored permanently.
CapturaCaptura’s systems use renewable electricity and ocean water to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.
Carbin MineralsCarbin Minerals speeds up the natural process of weathering, where rocks absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and turn it into a mineral. They partner with mines and transform mine tailings into giant carbon sinks capable of extracting and permanently storing large amounts of CO2.
NeustarkNeustark stores removed CO2 in recycled concrete, and they cut new CO2 emissions by reducing the use of traditional cement.
Parallel CarbonParallel Carbon uses mineral looping to separate CO2 from the ambient air. The captured CO2 can be repurposed or injected underground and permanently stored.
Carbo CultureCarbo Culture’s patented technology, Carbolysis™, converts CO₂ from plants into biochar and stores it permanently underground.
CarbonbuiltCarbonbuilt takes CO2 generated by industrial processes and transforms it into precast concrete.
NoyaNoya specializes in direct air capture via retrofitted cooling towers that suck CO2 from the air. They then either sequester, sell, or repurpose the captured CO2.
Related: Are you interested in learning more about the best direct carbon capture offsets? Check it out in this article here: “10 Best Direct Carbon Capture Offsets

How Can Direct Carbon Capture Offsets Help Mitigate Climate Change

Climate change is a severe and long-term consequence of fossil fuel combustion. DCC offsets can help mitigate climate change because they eliminate fossil-fuel derived carbon from our atmosphere which, if left untreated, can remain there for tens of thousands of years and exacerbate the negative effects of climate change.

How is Climate Change Defined

Climate change is arguably the most severe, long-term global impact of fossil fuel combustion. Every year, approximately 33 bt of CO2 are emitted from burning fossil fuels. The carbon found in fossil fuels reacts with oxygen in the air to produce CO2

Climate change: changes in the earth’s weather, including changes in temperature, wind patterns and rainfall, especially the increase in the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere that is caused by the increase of particular gasses, especially carbon dioxide.

Oxford Dictionary

Atmospheric CO2 fuels climate change, which results in global warming. When CO2 and other air pollutants absorb sunlight and solar radiation in the atmosphere, it traps the heat and acts as an insulator for the planet. Since the Industrial Revolution, Earth’s temperature has risen a little more than 1 degree Celsius (C), or 2 degrees Fahrenheit (F). Between 1880-1980 the global temperature rose by 0.07C every 10 years. This rate has more than doubled since 1981, with a current global annual temperature rise of 0.18C, or 0.32F, for every 10 years. 

As outlined in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, we must cut current GHG emissions by 50% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050

How Do Carbon Offsets Generally Help Mitigate Climate Change

Levels of carbon in our atmosphere that cause climate change have increased as a result of human emissions since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in 1750. The global average concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today registers at over 400 parts per million. Carbon offsets can help prevent these levels from increasing even more.

When you hear the words “carbon offset”, think about the term “compensation”. Essentially, carbon offsets are reductions in GHG emissions that are used to compensate for emissions occurring elsewhere

Carbon offsets that meet key criteria and verified project standards, are additional and permanent, and are a part of projects that are carried out until the end of their lifespan have the best chance of reducing carbon emissions and therefore reducing climate change. 

When we offset CO2 we also slow the rate of global temperature rise, which in turn minimizes the effects of climate change. 

How Do Direct Carbon Capture Offsets Specifically Help Mitigate Climate Change

DCC offsets specifically help mitigate climate change because they are certain, measurable, and immediate. 

  • DCC offsets are certain: Unlike traditional offsets which simply compensate for your carbon emissions, DCC offsets permanently remove CO2 from the atmosphere with a low rate of re-emission. Storing the carbon underground in rock formations is also a permanent process. 
  • DCC offsets are measurable: Climeworks DCC offsets are measurable, so you know precisely how much carbon dioxide they’ll remove in your name. This allows you to track how much CO2 you are offsetting compared to what your carbon footprint is.
  • DCCs are immediate: CO2 emissions reductions occur as soon as the machines become operational. Once the machines start sucking in atmospheric air, CO2 removal begins.

As outlined in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, we must cut current greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. DCC is important to meet these targets because it eliminates carbon, which when emitted, can remain in our atmosphere for tens of thousands of years.

What Are Better Alternatives to Direct Carbon Capture Offsets

If used correctly, direct carbon capture offsets can provide environmental, economic, and social benefits beyond reducing carbon emissions. They have the potential to instigate meaningful environmental change and begin to reverse some of the effects of climate change. 

However, we can’t let this method be a guilt-free way to reduce carbon emissions. Direct carbon capture offsets must be used in conjunction with direct carbon reduction measures until the industry has time to invest, develop, and refine the DCC technology.

These reduction measures don’t have to involve drastic changes either. Actions that may seem small can have a big impact because those small changes add up! You can reduce your carbon footprint in three main areas of your life: household, travel, and lifestyle. 

Reduce your household carbon footprint:

Reduce your travel carbon footprint:

  • Walk or bike when possible: The most efficient ways of traveling are walking, bicycling, or taking the train. Using a bike instead of a car can reduce carbon emissions by 75%. These forms of transportation also provide lower levels of air pollution.

Reduce your lifestyle carbon footprint:

  • Switch to renewable energy sources: The six most common types of renewable energy are solar, wind, hydro, tidal, geothermal, and biomass energy. They are a substitute for fossil fuels that can reduce the effects of global warming by limiting global carbon emissions and other pollutants.
  • Recycle: Recycling uses less energy and deposits less waste in landfills. Less manufacturing and transportation energy costs means fewer carbon emissions generated. Less waste in landfills means less CH4 is generated.
  • Eat less meat and dairy: Meat and dairy account for 14.5% of global GHG emissions, with beef and lamb being the most carbon-intensive. Globally, we consume much more meat than is considered sustainable, and switching to a vegan or vegetarian diet could reduce emissions. 
  • Take shorter showers: Approximately 1.2 trillion gallons of water are used each year in the United States just for showering purposes, and showering takes up about 17% of residential water usage. The amount of water consumed and the energy cost of that consumption are directly related. The less water we use the less energy we use. And the less energy we use, the less of a negative impact we have on the environment.

Because DCC offsets are an indirect way and not a direct way of reducing emissions, they alone will not be enough to reduce global carbon emissions significantly. Direct measures of emission reductions, such as reducing individual energy use and consumption, are better alternatives to DCC offsets.

Related: Are you interested in learning why reducing your carbon footprint is so important? Check it out in this article here: “4 Main Reasons Why Reducing Your Carbon Footprint Is Important

Final Thoughts

Direct carbon capture (DCC) offsets are permanent, effective, and immediate. Purchasing DCC offsets on the VCM can help mitigate climate change because DCC offsets are certain, measurable, and immediate. However, DCC offsets are also expensive, not yet scaled to compensate for all of our global emissions, and do not reduce your own emissions.

The top DCC companies permanently remove CO2 from the atmosphere and prevent its re-emission for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. But although DCC offsets can instigate meaningful change, they should not be seen as the only solution to climate change. They are effective at reducing CO2 in the short-term, but in the long term they fail to reduce CO2 enough. 

When used in conjunction with direct CO2 reduction measures, carbon offsetting can be much more effective. We should reduce our own carbon footprint as much as possible first, and only then choose the most effective carbon offsets.

Stay impactful,

Illustration of a signature for Grace



Sources

Photo of author

Grace Smoot

Grace loves to research and write about all things related to climate action and sustainability. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Biology and works as an Environmental Survey Technician. Outside of work, she loves to work out, play soccer, and take her dog for long walks.

Did you know that the internet is a huge polluter of the environment? But fortunately not this site. This site is powered by renewable energy and all hosting-related CO2 emissions are offset by three times as many renewable energy certificates. Find out all about it here.

Three Related Posts

One Unrelated Post