Feature Story | 24-Aug-2023

California group exploring viability of a community-centered direct air capture hub

A team co-led by Berkeley Lab is studying the possibility of an air capture hub that uses multiple decarbonizing technologies and prioritizes needs of surrounding communities

DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the Center for Law, Energy, and the Environment (CLEE) at the UC Berkeley School of Law are leading a project to explore the creation of a Direct Air Capture (DAC) facility that uses cutting-edge technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in California’s Southern San Joaquin Valley (SSJV). This foundational work is part of a wider, multibillion-dollar program led by the Department of Energy with funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to develop “DAC hubs” – commercial-scale facilities with the potential to capture at least 1 million metric tons of CO2 annually for permanent storage in underground geologic rock or through conversion into bioproducts – across the country. 

The federal program seeks to maximize the impact of these hubs by locating them in regions that stand to benefit economically and environmentally, such as the SSJV which, as California’s agricultural and economic base, has been home to multiple carbon-intensive industries for decades. 

The Berkeley Lab and CLEE-led Community Alliance for Direct Air Capture (CALDAC) is composed of researchers from across Berkeley Lab, universities, technology companies, community partners, and research organizations. This interdisciplinary group will work together on a study assessing the technical, environmental, social, and governance feasibility of developing a DAC hub on three potential sites in the SSJV area, near Fresno in the north end of the region and near Bakersfield in the south. CALDAC ultimately envisions partnering with the surrounding communities to evaluate the feasibility of a sophisticated hub that serves as a one-stop-shop for decarbonization, combining multiple DAC technologies with carbon utilization solutions, geological storage providers, clean energy providers, and energy storage solutions, as well as water management. 

CLEE’s Executive Director, Louise Bedsworth, CALDAC project lead and principal investigator, is optimistic about what a DAC hub that integrates community engagement and technological advances could help bring to the region.

“If designed well, deployment of a DAC hub in this region could provide important economic and environmental benefits to communities that have been affected by the impacts of climate disruption on the agricultural economy, and which are likely to experience negative impacts as a result of the transition from the reliance on fossil fuels,” Bedsworth said. CLEE is an interdisciplinary research center at Berkeley Law that examines the technical, legal, and policy dimensions of climate change and environmental problems.

Jens Birkholzer, Division Director for the Energy Geosciences Division of Berkeley Lab’s Earth and Environmental Sciences Area (EESA), is project lead for the Lab. He and his EESA colleagues will use their decades of experience studying carbon removal technology and geologic storage to evaluate the technological requirements and potential environmental impacts of the hub. Blake Simmons and researchers from the Biosciences Area are spearheading the Lab’s investigations into using biomanufacturing and other bio-based CO2 conversion routes and technologies at the proposed hub, whereas Hanna Breunig in the Energy Technologies Area will lead the Hub Development and Design Thrust Area with CALDAC industry partners to incorporate partner technologies into the hub plan in line with community-guided hub designs. For Berkeley Lab, the support for CALDAC reinforces the laboratory’s commitment to local communities, climate, and energy justice.

“I am so excited about this remarkable CALDAC team which brings together a diverse range of experts with the common goal of designing a DAC hub that meets the unique needs of the Southern San Joaquin Valley communities,” said Birkholzer. “This approach will ensure that any technological solutions are socially responsible and in line with community needs and values and hopefully provide a new paradigm for community-led climate and energy transitions.”

CALDAC industry partners represent companies working on DAC technologies such as Capture6, Mosaic, Origen, and AirMyne, as well as CO2 utilization technologies such as Blue Planet and CarbonBuilt. EPRI, AECOM, Rondo, Clean Energy Systems, and Fresno State University will collaborate with CALDAC in supporting the integration of CALDAC industry partner technology critical to establishing a DAC hub in the region. Several organizations, such as Project 2030, Data for Progress, Carbon180, Valley Onward, PSE Healthy Energy, and Cal State University Bakersfield, will help expand community involvement to inform the environmental and social impact assessments and evaluate innovative community-driven governance and business models.

The news that CALDAC is among four California projects to receive a first round of DAC funding comes about a year after Governor Gavin Newsom signed a law requiring the state to remove as much carbon from the air as it emits by 2045. In total, DOE will invest $3.5 billion towards the creation of four regional DAC hubs across the nation. Initial round one funding was spread across multiple projects to support planning and engineering studies such as CALDAC. 

Two proposed hubs were recently selected to begin development, one in southern Louisiana and one in southern Texas.

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Founded in 1931 on the belief that the biggest scientific challenges are best addressed by teams, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and its scientists have been recognized with 16 Nobel Prizes. Today, Berkeley Lab researchers develop sustainable energy and environmental solutions, create useful new materials, advance the frontiers of computing, and probe the mysteries of life, matter, and the universe. Scientists from around the world rely on the Lab’s facilities for their own discovery science. Berkeley Lab is a multiprogram national laboratory, managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.
DOE's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit energy.gov/science.

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