How Effective & Efficient Are Direct Carbon Capture Offsets? Here Are the Facts

How Effective & Efficient Are Direct Carbon Capture Offsets? Here Are the Facts

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Grace Smoot

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Direct carbon capture (DCC) is a method of carbon removal that takes carbon out of our atmosphere and stores it permanently underground. It is referred to as one of the most direct and effective methods of carbon emission reduction. So, we had to ask: how effective are direct carbon capture offsets?

Direct carbon capture (DCC) offsets are effective because they are permanent and immediate; however, they do not reduce your own carbon emissions. They are also efficient because they have a low rate of carbon re-emission, a low land-usage requirement, and a low life-cycle carbon footprint.

Keep reading to find out how efficient and effective direct carbon capture (DCC) offsets are, how you can offset your carbon footprint with DCC offsets, what the pros and cons of DCC offsets are, how DCC offsets can mitigate climate change, and what better alternatives to DCC offsets are. 

The Big Picture of the Effectiveness & Efficiency 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. 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 which 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.

How Do Direct Carbon Capture (DCC) Offsets WorkDirect carbon capture offsets are a specific type of carbon offset that focus on the practice of carbon removal, or eliminating carbon from the atmosphere.
DCC projects reduce CO2 emissions via the use of specialized machinery that sucks CO2 from the atmosphere and then stores it permanently, (e.g., pumped into underground geological formations).
How Effective Are DCC Offsets at Mitigating Climate ChangeDCC offsets permanently remove carbon from the atmosphere.
DCC removes CO2 emissions immediately upon operation of the DCC machines.
DCC offsets do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing.
How Efficient Are DCC Offset Programs at Reducing CO2 EmissionsDCC plants have a low rate of carbon re-emission when the plant is operated by low-carbon electricity.
DCC plants can have low land-usage requirements depending on the type of plant and the energy source that powers it.
DCC offsets have a low life-cycle carbon footprint.

Direct carbon capture (DCC) is a type of technological carbon removal, the process of eliminating carbon from the atmosphere using technology. DCC is both efficient and effective at reducing carbon emissions and mitigating climate change.

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

Here’s How Effective and Efficient Direct Carbon Capture Offsets Are

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.

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.

How Effective Are Direct Carbon Capture Offset Programs at Mitigating Climate Change

Effectiveness involves completing a task with a desired outcome, typically a successful one. 

Effective: producing the result that is wanted or intended; producing a successful result

Oxford Dictionary

Direct Carbon Capture (DCC) offsets are effective at mitigating climate change because they are permanent and immediate, but they do not reduce your own carbon emissions.

Direct Carbon Capture Offsets Remove CO2 Emissions Permanently 

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. For example, Climeworks’ DCC machines capture carbon and store it deep underground, where it remains for more than 10,000 years.

When comparing DCC to other methods of carbon removal like planting trees, we find that DCC reduces CO2 emissions more permanently. There is always the risk of droughts, wildfires, tree diseases, and deforestation wiping out newly planted trees, negating permanence and any carbon reduction benefits. 

In short, unlike traditional offsets which simply compensate for your carbon emissions, DCC offsets permanently remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Storing the carbon underground in rock formations is also a permanent process. 

Direct Carbon Capture Offsets Remove CO2 Emissions Immediately

CO2 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. In comparison, newly planted trees could take upwards of 20 years to capture the amount of CO2 that most carbon offset programs promise. 

In short, DCC is the fastest reducer of carbon emissions out of all carbon offset programs, reducing emissions immediately. 

Direct Carbon Capture Offsets Do Not Reduce Your Own Carbon Emissions

One of the main limitations of carbon offsetting in general is that purchasing a carbon offset does not directly reduce your carbon footprint. It only makes others reduce their carbon footprint to compensate for your carbon footprint. 

If 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. Companies accused of greenwashing either invest in non-verified credits, do not prioritize in-house emissions reductions, or double-count carbon credits. Or sometimes, all of the above.

In short, you should make sure to reduce your own emissions first before offsetting the remainder of what you cannot reduce. Otherwise, offsetting could be seen as greenwashing. 

Related: Are you interested in learning more about greenwashing in carbon offsetting? Check it out in this article here: “Is Carbon Offsetting Greenwashing? The Big Picture

How Efficient Are Direct Carbon Capture Offset Programs at Reducing CO2 Emissions

Efficiency involves performing a task while using the least amount of resources and producing the least amount of waste as possible.

Efficient: working in a way that does not waste a resource (= something valuable such as fuel, water, or money)

Cambridge Dictionary

Direct Carbon Capture (DCC) offsets are efficient at reducing CO2 emissions because they have a low rate of carbon re-emission, a low land-usage requirement, and a low life-cycle carbon footprint.

Direct Carbon Capture Offsets Have a Low Rate of Carbon Re-Emission

DCC plants are most effective in locations where there is excess renewable energy available along with ample natural storage options for the captured carbon. And although DCC 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).

For example, a study published by the RWTH Aachen University on Climeworks’ Orca DCC plant found that this plant re-emits less than 10% of the CO2 they capture when the plant is operated by low-carbon electricity. For every 100 tons of CO2 captured from the air, 90 tons are permanently removed, and only up to 10 tons are re-emitted

In short, DCC offsets have low rates of carbon re-emission when plants are operated by low-carbon electricity.

Direct Carbon Capture Offsets Have Low Land-Usage Requirements

The 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. In comparison, forests require approximately 862km2 to capture the same amount of CO2.

For example, Climework’s Orca DCC plant is the size of approximately 8 shipping containers, making it a relatively small system. And although the land usage requirement increases because Orca’s heat and electrical needs are met by the Hellisheidi Geothermal Power Plant, this is still low compared to other types of carbon removal.

In short, a DCC plant’s land usage requirement is generally low. However, the type of plant and the energy source that powers it can affect the overall land usage requirement. If the plant takes energy from the traditional power grid, then the land requirement would be little to none. But if the plant builds its own renewable energy source (i.e., a solar or wind farm), this would increase the land requirement.

Direct Carbon Capture Offsets Have a Low Life-Cycle Carbon Footprint 

A life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a method to evaluate the environmental impacts of products and materials. Over the years, companies have strategically used LCA to research and create more sustainable products. When looking at the LCA for direct carbon capture (DCC) offsets, we find that they have a low carbon footprint across their building, operating, and building back stages.

  • Building: CO2 emissions at this stage are associated with building the DCC plants and include emissions from the components of a plant (i.e., collectors, fans, and filters) and the amount of land required by the plant. If the plant builds its own renewable energy source (i.e., a solar or wind farm) this would increase the land requirement and therefore the carbon footprint. But if the 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 and maintenance: CO2 emissions at this stage are associated with the operation and maintenance of the DCC plant. 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: The end-of-life of DCC offset projects is not well documented because DCC itself is a relatively new technology, but 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. 

In short, DCC offsets have a low carbon footprint across their building, operation and maintenance, and building back stages. 

How Could you Offset Your Own Carbon Footprint With 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
ClimeworksAbout: Carbon 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.
Costs: $1,200 per 1,000kg of CO2
NovocarboAbout: Novocarbo 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.
Costs: Novocarbo uses resellers (e.g., Puro.earth and Carbonfuture), costs are determined with these.
HeirloomAbout: Heirloom’s technology captures CO2 through an accelerated process of natural mineralization, whereby minerals absorb CO2 from the air. The CO2 is then injected underground and stored permanently.
Costs: Costs are determined after initial contact.
CapturaAbout: Captura’s systems remove CO2 from the atmosphere with renewable electricity and ocean water. The captured CO2 is then either sequestered or re-purposed.
Costs: Estimated at less than $100 per ton of CO2.
Carbin MineralsAbout: Carbin 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.
Costs: Costs are determined after initial contact.
NeustarkAbout: Neustark removes CO2 from the atmosphere and stores it in recycled concrete, and they cut new CO2 emissions by reducing the use of traditional cement.
Costs: Costs are determined after initial contact.
Parallel CarbonAbout: Parallel Carbon uses mineral looping to separate CO2 from the ambient air. The captured CO2 can be repurposed or injected underground and permanently stored.
Costs: Costs are determined after initial contact.
Carbo CultureAbout: Carbo Culture converts CO₂ from plants into biochar and stores it permanently underground.
Costs: Costs are determined after initial contact.
CarbonbuiltAbout: Carbonbuilt takes CO2 generated by industrial processes and transforms it into precast concrete.
Costs: One-time or monthly subscription options for $200 per ton of CO2 + processing fees.
NoyaAbout: Noya 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.
Costs: Carbon credits are free of charge, costs are associated with retrofitting your cooling tower.
Related: Are you interested in learning more about the best direct carbon capture offsets? Check out the full article here: “10 Best Direct Carbon Capture Offsets

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.

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 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. 

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 efficient because they have a low rate of carbon re-emission, a low land-usage requirement, and a low life-cycle carbon footprint. They are also effective because they are permanent and immediate; however, they do not reduce your own carbon emissions and can be seen as greenwashing if you do not reduce your own emissions first.

Carbon offsets can instigate meaningful change, but 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,

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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.

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