Direct air capture (DAC) is an engineered carbon removal solution that is holding huge potential in enabling humanity to take responsibility for emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. A growing number of companies are coming together to form the DAC industry and work towards responsibly and efficiently scaling it to reduce emissions in the atmosphere.
We interviewed Jason Hochman, Co-Founder and Senior Director of the Direct Air Capture (DAC) Coalition – an organization gathering DAC technology companies and partners, advancing the technology’s deployment. To mark the DAC Coalition’s one year anniversary on May 24th, Mr. Hochman gave us a recap of what was achieved during the last year, how the Coalition continues to foster engagement, and the importance of scaling the technology.
My first question Mr. Hochman is, what is the DAC Coalition?
The DAC Coalition is a global, nonprofit multi-stakeholder coalition of companies, nonprofit organizations and research and academic institutions. We work together to help advance and accelerate the responsible development and deployment of direct air capture technology to help address climate change.
Why did you decide to co-found this organization?
I decided to leave my prior job to start the Direct Air Capture (DAC) Coalition because I found it to be, for one thing, an absolute necessity to scale this technology to help avert the worst impacts of climate change.
The UN IPCC has made it quite clear that we will need to scale direct air capture, among other carbon removal solutions, to a massive degree. On a more personal level, I found it to be hopeful that we are able to utilize and harness mankind and humanity’s ingenuity and innovation if not to solve the biggest problem humanity faces, then make progress in addressing it.
Additionally, it just strikes me as a tremendous opportunity to be a part of a small cohort of people who are really building an entirely new sector from the ground up. There is also the opportunity to make sure that it develops and scales in a way that is beneficial for the broader swath of people. It shouldn’t develop in a way as we’ve seen, in legacy sectors, leaving scars on the landscape and communities.
What is the coalition’s purpose and end goal? What are you hoping to achieve in the long run?
That is a terrific question. We are hoping to serve a key role in the growth of this sector in a manner that is timely, effective, responsible, equitable, and sustainable. We want to make sure that direct air capture will mature from being a high-cost, low-scale, highly fragmented sector into a cost-effective, socially accepted, and scalable technology. It needs to become a part of the portfolio of solutions necessary for combating climate change.
What are the business activities or services to the industry that you provide? On your website you list your priorities of spreading awareness, education, and connectivity engagements in the sector, how are you achieving them?
What we are doing in terms of programming, activities, and events exists in two distinct buckets. One of them is external facing and that is being a trusted, credible source of high-quality, accurate, educational informational content related to direct air capture.
If you go to our website, you’ll see we’ve compiled a plethora of educational resources related to direct air capture – a FAQ, a new sub Company Directory, a report library, nearly 200 third-party deep dive reports related to anything connected to direct air capture that is easily sortable by topic area.
We are helping educate decision-makers, investors, financiers, policymakers, advocacy groups, media, or the general public, as to what role direct air capture has to play in the broader picture of climate solutions. Also what role the audience, whatever capacity they may be in, can play in helping advance this space.
We are raising awareness of this solution, what it entails, and where it will need to scale to be a real global champion for the space. It also needs to be a responsible one that is cognizant there are challenges to be overcome. Doing that kind of coalition building and advocacy is the external side of things.
There are also more internal to the community activities in this emerging ecosystem which are helping build and support the capacity of the folks on the ground working to get this technology developed and deployed.
Relevant: Top 20 Direct Air Capture Companies In 2023
Examples of that are the jobs board we have on our website in partnership with Climatebase of openings at our member companies and partner organizations. We have a Slack channel to help facilitate connection and collaboration within our member and partner organizations. We have monthly virtual convenings, where we have key actors in the space who interact with the coalition members.
We’ve had key actors on the policy and regulation side, we’ve had key folks from the MRV (monitoring, reporting and verification) world, we had some of the large aggregators of market demand come on to talk to the DAC coalition members.
Another example is that we became an official nominator for the 2023 Earth Shot Prize. We nominated 18 of our companies and organizations at their request to be considered for that award. We recently hosted an informal meeting between direct air capture companies and folks in the European environmental NGO ecosystem.
The goal is to help build connections between them and allow both sides to better understand what the direct air capture technology is, where their joint priorities are, and help them address concerns that they may have regarding the technology.
Are you working with companies in other geographies?
We’ve been actively engaged with folks in Kenya. One of my colleagues, Aaron Benjamin, our UK and Europe Coalition Lead, attended the Kenyan Government’s national workshop on carbon removal as Kenya is particularly well positioned to be a powerhouse for carbon removal deployment, particularly direct air capture.
James Mwangi, the Executive Director of the Dalberg Group, and founder of Climate Action Platform for Africa is one of our advisors. He is a leading visionary and he understands the potential for climate action to be an engine for economic development throughout the African continent. We want to help, to be a resource in making that vision a reality.
Another example of a role that we’re playing is that the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) recently held a technical workshop on a particular type of direct air capture technology application and they reached out to us asking whom should they invite to this technical workshop.
We reached out to all of the direct air capture companies in our Coalition, connecting them directly to this endeavor. In that way, we are serving as the contact point or entry point to this broader sector which is adding a lot of value to our member companies and in the ecosystem as a whole. The space had been fragmented and siloed and our service acts as a connective tissue breaking down some of those barriers.
Are you also organizing events and DAC conferences?
Yes, we have worked with other organizations for events in New York and in London. We have planned more informal happy hours for folks in the broader carbon removal, carbon tech, and climate tech space in the area. We’re a partner of the Carbon Unbound Summit that took place on the 11th and 12th of May in New York City.
We have worked with our partners from the Carbon Business Council, Open Air Collective, Activate, and Carbon To Value Initiative on events that we put on last year’s Climate Week. We’ll also be organizing other events at Climate Week NYC 2023 in September.
We have participated in other webinars and panels hosted by key actors in the ecosystem like a Frontier Knowledge Gaps Database webinar discussion on direct air capture – part of a database tool that the team from Frontier put together. We are acting as a global public champion, advocate, and system orchestrator for the space.
Are you also assisting the members of your Coalition with financing?
No, we are happy to facilitate introductions but at the same time, we don’t want to make any particular opportunities available to one member and not others. We want to be providing a general opportunity to our members rather than saying, we were reached out by this VC firm – you should talk to them. We want to get the opportunity for the broader space to interact.
Do you provide support to companies that are starting direct air capture projects? Do you provide any assistance services with the deployment of such projects?
In utilizing the network we have built and the experts who are part of this community, we are very happy to assist anyone and everyone who is trying to get direct air capture technology advanced, improved, developed, deployed, and so on.
We also partnered with the FootPrint Coalition in their Negative Emissions Technology Science Engine – a platform allowing fast, small-sized grants for negative emissions-related science projects. In that way, we are also trying to move the ball forward in the science and technical advances of the space.
The first place where I would point a company that is now starting to explore the possibilities of direct air capture projects deployment is our report library. I probably don’t know the answer to any given question that whomever may have, but I do know where to look and can point you in the right direction.
If you have a particular question as to how local climate conditions impact direct air capture, or measuring the efficacy of different potential sorbents, you can go to the report library. You can filter by cost models, by sorbent and solvents, techno-economic assessments and lifecycle analyses, among other items.
We are distinctly positioned to be a resource for folks who want to break into and engage in the direct air capture space. What we were talking about were concerned, particular, educational or informational resources, but we also know who is working on these types of things, and we can facilitate connections. So we have a whole host of academic institutions and research networks that are part of the DAC Coalition and that we hopefully utilize in a way adding value to all parties.
Is the DAC Coalition also involved in policy advocacy?
We are registered as a 501(c)(3) organization, we are a nonprofit. We are not a trade association or an industry lobbying group, so we don’t do direct lobbying. We do engage with folks who are working in the policy space to help them understand the perspectives of the DAC players, the folks who are on the frontlines trying to get this technology developed, and what can unlock potential for more scaling.
Relevant: “We Are Focused On Getting Direct Air Capture Deployments Up And Running As Quickly As Possible,” Nicholas Eisenberger, President Global Thermostat
We see ourselves as really a conduit or channel of information exchange to and from the key decision-makers in the policy landscape with the frontline actors in the direct air capture ecosystem.
For example, we responded to a request for information from the Department of Energy a few months ago that they had put out which was on the demand side support mechanisms for clean energy technologies inclusive of carbon dioxide removal. We want to help inform that process so that it can result in effectively designed policies to enable the responsible, timely, effective deployment of direct air capture to help address climate change and grow the economy.
Where do you see direct air capture bringing the most value towards net zero efforts?
I think in order to get to net zero, we are going to need negative emissions technologies. For one thing, there are the residual emissions. I also have to reiterate that direct air capture and carbon removal are by no means and in no way should ever be considered a substitute or replacement for rapid and sustained emissions reductions and decarbonization – period, full stop!
Carbon removal is a complementary strategy to emissions reductions, not a substitute. The fact is that all of the leading climate science has indicated we need both – it’s not either or, it’s both. That needs to be clear.
At the same time, we will need an almost inconceivable amount of carbon removal over coming decades, and we really need to start building the foundation for that sector as it scales today. It will be a critical tool addressing the residual emissions of hard-to-decarbonize sectors like aviation, maritime shipping, steel, and iron production. We don’t have clear existing pathways to decarbonize around 10 to 15% of our emissions.
Ideally, we can get to a point where direct air capture and other carbon removal solutions will enable negative emissions so that we can begin drawing down the excess CO2 that is in the atmosphere.
One of the most stunning, just mind-boggling statistics is that since 1900, the mass, or the weight, of all the carbon dioxide that humanity has put into the atmosphere and into the ocean is greater than the combined weight of all living things on this earth and every single structure that humanity has built.
It’s a mind-boggling amount of CO2 that we’ve put into the air and ocean that we need to begin cleaning up. In doing so, we can harness the best of mankind’s energy innovation ingenuity to solve this problem that we have created for ourselves.
What are the key qualities of DAC?
I think the key advantages of direct air capture are that it is measurable and durable. If you sequester it underground geologically, you have removed it from the atmosphere, and it’s not going back in there, which isn’t necessarily the case for certain other solutions.
There’s a lot of flexibility in terms of the siting, theoretically, you can put a DAC plant anywhere, co-located with sources of zero carbon electricity or where you’re going to be storing or sequestering it. There are a lot of commercial applications for CO2. They’re also, relative to certain other solutions, more limited land and water usage footprints.
What other carbon removal, or even emission reduction solutions, do you see as having the highest potential to cut emissions at scale and achieve true decarbonization?
We need all of them at scale. I’ve recently heard people saying that we need everything everywhere all at once and I think that is very true. We are so far behind the curve that we need to be rapidly scaling up all manner of climate solutions – from the emissions reduction side to the carbon removal side.
Fighting over a small pot of resources, instead of growing that pot and understanding that there is room for all of these solutions to play a role, would be short-sighted. And there is no magic bullet solution here. I think that we do have a Swiss Army knife of different solutions with different use cases and different scenarios that we need to be deploying appropriately.
Unfortunately, sometimes they’re competing with each other as everyone is trying to invest in the most potential solution.
I think the fighting between climate solutions is unfortunate and counterproductive.
What would you say to the companies that will use carbon removal approaches like DAC as an excuse to keep the size of their operations and avoid the responsibility of cutting emissions?
It’s a fair question. I think it is incumbent to call them out, it’s quite clear when a one-off project is meant solely to be the focus of a marketing campaign as opposed to a legitimate change in their business strategy. When you see companies spending more on marketing for green initiatives that are actually spending on that initiative, it’s quite clear what is going on.
I do think that there is a real business opportunity for some of these legacy sectors to engage in this space and help it scale but only if it’s part of a broader strategy of decarbonization. It absolutely should not be an excuse to delay or forestall aggressive mitigation strategies. It’s not unreasonable at all, based on their history to be skeptical.
There is a legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) in Feb 2023 called the Captured Carbon Utilization Parity Act that proposes a parity between the DAC tax credits for underground sequestration and the DAC tax credits for utilization including enhanced oil recovery? What do you think of that?
I think in order for direct air capture to have the maximum climate impact, it is preferable for it to be sequestered, stored or utilized in a way that does not enable further fossil fuels extraction.
The vast majority of direct air capture companies that I am familiar with are not thinking about enhanced oil recovery at all, and are working towards durable permanent sequestration and storage or climate-beneficial utilization pathways. I really can’t think of any in our Coalition who are thinking about going down the oil recovery path.
What do you think of the $3.5 billion program of the Biden administration aiming to support four large-scale direct air capture hubs? How is that legislation changing the US DAC industry from your experience?
In combination with the Inflation Reduction Act’s enhancement of the 45 Q tax credit, the DAC hubs program has been game-changing and groundbreaking. It represents the largest investment that any government has made in human history in this particular technology.
We are working for direct air capture to become a cost-effective, socially accepted, equitably and responsibly deployed climate solution at scale. The growth and hopefully success of these programs will really lay the groundwork for that.
You will soon mark one year since the launch of the Direct Air Capture (DAC) Coalition. Could you tell us more about that?
We launched publicly on May 24, 2022 with 22 direct air capture technology companies and 10 aligned stakeholder partner organizations for a total of 32 members of the Coalition. We are now above 80 members and partner organizations with several more in the pipeline.
I think our first year was really about building this strong community with that connective tissue serving as a resource to the folks in the space and helping to educate key actors. We are going to continue moving towards strategies to enable action in the space and to act as a thought leader.
Additionally, we will be announcing plans for a large direct air capture conference to be held later in 2023 that we really hope can act as a marquee annual event for knowledge sharing, cross-sectoral discussion, agenda setting, collaboration, and progress tracking as we work to transform DAC into a robust cost-effective and socially accepted technology operating at gigaton scale.