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A podcast about the different people, technologies, and organizations that are coming together to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reverse climate change. We also talk about blockchains.

#7 Dr. Klaus Lackner of ASU’s Center for Negative Carbon Emissions

January 16, 2018


“The CO2 problem is a waste management problem … If I were to dump my garbage in front of your house and you complained, I would say, ‘Now wait a minute. I’m 20% better than I was last year. I want a reward!’ … If you put it in this context, you see it immediately looks silly. The difference is, it really changes the way you think about the problem.”

Ross and Christophe are joined by Dr. Klaus Lackner, the director of ASU’s Center for Negative Carbon Emissions (CNCE) and professor at the School of Sustainable Engineering. The CNCE is known for advancing carbon management technologies to capture carbon dioxide directly from the air in an outdoor operating environment. Today Klaus explains how he conceived of the windmill-sized structures that could scrub CO2 from the air and how these towers prove to be a more efficient solution than planting trees. 

Ross, Christophe and Klaus also discuss CO2 as a waste management issue, comparing the way society eventually addressed sewage with the current problem surrounding carbon emissions. Klaus offers his take on the feasibility of retrofitting coal plants for carbon capture, the politics of carbon sequestration, and the decreasing cost of carbon capture technology. Listen in to understand how putting a price on CO2 could balance our carbon budget and the role volunteers are likely to play in prompting government action.

Key Takeaways

[2:59] Klaus’ eureka moment around carbon sequestration

  • Proposal to build tower that would turn wind energy into heat
  • Realized structure could be 100X more efficient in reducing carbon footprint

[7:22] The concept of a moisture swing

  • Plastic coated in absorptive resin
  • Pulls CO2 out of air when dry, releases when wet

[8:53] Why trees aren’t an efficient method of sequestering carbon

  • Scale problem (not enough land available to keep up with current emissions)
  • Would compete with food production
  • Klaus’ structures could extract 1,000X faster than trees
  • Structures would not be in competition for agricultural land
  • Excess CO2 could be converted to liquid fuel

[14:28] How viewing CO2 as a waste management problem would change the game

  • Comparison with sewage, must be properly treated and disposed of
  • Either dispose safely or not make in first place
  • Air capture functions like street sweeper
  • Can’t just make less CO2, must collect what put out
  • Oil industry injecting CO2 in ground for EOR is not enough
  • Far more opportunity to store carbon than can be made from coal, oil and gas

[20:46] Klaus’ work around diffused carbon capture

  • Carbon capture industry can never be carbon neutral
  • Must be balanced through removal

[22:33] Why Klaus is skeptical of the proposal to retrofit coal plants for carbon capture

  • Coal plants not designed for this (inefficient, cheap)
  • Price would jump, not economically viable
  • Coal can’t compete with natural gas as it is
  • Old coal plants will become stranded assets

[26:26] Small power plants vs. large power plants

  • Bigger not always better, consider cost and scale
  • Reduced risk in small plants that don’t last
  • If assumptions incorrect, can pivot after two years

[30:34] Klaus’ insight around the politics of carbon sequestration

  • Similar to sewage discussion in 1800’s
  • Trigger event necessary to spur change
  • Dire economic consequences if unprepared

[32:00] The role of volunteers in prompting government action

  • Volunteers can lead way, i.e.: recycling movement

[33:53] How to foot the bill for carbon sequestration

  • Take one ton from ground, must demonstrate that one ton put away
  • May motivate to replace carbon with renewables 
  • Cannot predict if cheaper to bury carbon or replace

[40:01] The alarming rate of increasing carbon emissions

  • 280 ppm before Industrial Revolution
  • 300 ppm by 1900
  • Currently 400 ppm, increases by 2-3 ppm per year
  • Will reach 450 ppm in 15-17 years
  • CO2 emissions grow with economies

[45:06] The decreasing cost of carbon sequestration 

  • Climeworks went from $600/ton to $400/ton
  • First of kind always expensive, technology can drive costs down
  • Klaus believes $60/ton is possible
  • Automation makes revolutionary change possible
  • Could collect thousands of tons of CO2 on few acres of land

[50:11] Klaus’ take on the future of the air capture industry

  • Transition to waste management paradigm
  • Develop like other technologies (more affordable)
  • Volunteers to spur change (i.e.: individuals, corporations)
  • Air capture one of many players in game
  • Price on CO2, world could balance carbon budget
  • Cannot solve problem by stopping growth

Connect with Ross & Christophe


Carbon A List


ASU Center for Negative Carbon Emissions

Klaus Lackner, PhD

IPCC Report on Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage

Sleipner CO2 Storage


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