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Saudi Aramco's CO2 Extraction Pilot Project Raises Skepticism Among Scientists

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Saudi Aramco's Partnership with Siemens Energy: Skepticism Surrounds CO2 Extraction Pilot Project

Strong Market Conditions Boost Saudi Aramco's Net Income

Saudi Aramco, the Saudi oil giant, reported a significant increase in its second-quarter net income, reaching $48.4 billion compared to $25.5 billion the previous year. The company attributes this growth to favorable market conditions. However, Aramco's latest announcement of a partnership with Siemens Energy AG to develop a small-scale direct air-capture (DAC) "test unit" has raised skepticism among scientists and experts.

Understanding Direct Air-Capture (DAC) Technology

DAC technology involves extracting carbon dioxide (CO2) that has already been emitted into the atmosphere. The captured CO2 can then be condensed into solid formations resembling stone or liquefied for underground storage. While DAC is considered the most expensive method of carbon capture, it is generally more cost-effective to remove CO2 at the source before it is released into the air.

Challenges and Skepticism Surrounding DAC

The high cost associated with DAC and concerns about its efficacy have led climate scientists to question its viability as a long-term solution for reducing emissions. Jonathan Foley, leader of the climate solutions nonprofit Project Drawdown, explains that DAC presents significant engineering challenges. Removing a large quantity of CO2 from the air and efficiently storing it underground at a scale of billions of tons is currently considered science fiction.

Investments in DAC Technology

Despite the obstacles to scaling DAC, many companies, particularly tech giants, are investing in its development. Amazon, for instance, recently announced funding for the largest DAC deployment, while a coalition led by Stripe has launched a public benefit company called Frontier to invest in carbon-capture startups and projects. Companies with significant carbon footprints find the concept of extracting carbon from the atmosphere appealing, as it offers a reversal mechanism for their emissions.

Unproven Technology at Scale

Experts emphasize that DAC technology is still unproven at a large scale. While the idea of a machine that can remove CO2 from the sky is appealing, the reality is that it is more challenging to extract carbon than to prevent its release in the first place. The DAC collaboration between Aramco and Siemens Energy is currently in the early phases, with plans to move into an official pilot phase once the test unit is complete next year.

Exploring Clean Energy Alternatives

Given the early stage of DAC technology, both Aramco and Siemens Energy are also investing in other clean energy projects. Siemens Energy has invested in hydrogen, wind, nuclear fusion, and other technologies, while Aramco has ongoing projects in hydrogen and geothermal energy. These investments reflect a broader commitment to exploring diverse clean energy alternatives alongside the DAC initiative.

Implications of Saudi Aramco's DAC Project for New Business Ventures

Direct Air-Capture (DAC) Technology: A Double-Edged Sword

Saudi Aramco's recent partnership with Siemens Energy AG to develop a small-scale direct air-capture (DAC) "test unit" has generated significant attention. While DAC technology, which extracts CO2 from the atmosphere, holds potential for reducing emissions, it also presents considerable challenges. The high cost, coupled with its unproven efficacy at a large scale, has led to skepticism among experts. For new businesses, this raises questions about the viability of investing in DAC technology.

Investments in DAC Despite Challenges

Despite these challenges, many companies, especially tech giants, are investing in DAC development. This trend suggests that the technology holds appeal for companies with large carbon footprints, as it provides a mechanism to reverse their emissions. For new businesses, this could offer a way to balance their environmental impact while continuing operations.

Unproven Technology and the Risk for New Businesses

However, the fact remains that DAC technology is unproven at a large scale. The idea of a machine that can remove CO2 from the sky is appealing, but the reality of extracting carbon is more challenging than preventing its release in the first place. For new businesses, this presents a significant risk. Investing in a technology that is still in its infancy could lead to unforeseen complications and costs.

Exploring Alternatives to DAC

Given the early stage of DAC technology, it's crucial for new businesses to explore other clean energy alternatives. Both Aramco and Siemens Energy are investing in other projects, such as hydrogen, wind, and nuclear fusion technologies. This diversified approach could provide a more secure path for new businesses seeking to reduce their environmental impact while ensuring operational stability.
Story First Published at: https://www.cnbc.com/2023/10/09/aramco-siemens-energy-launch-direct-air-capture-project-.html
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