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Initial Systems-Level Assessment of a Distributed Direct Air Capture System Concept at the Urban-scale (UrbanDAC)

by Thomaz M Carvalhaes, Sk Nasir Ahmad
Publication Type
ORNL Report
Publication Date

Direct Air Capture (DAC) systems offer a promising solution for mitigating global carbon emissions by directly removing ambient carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. While future DAC facilities are typically envisioned as being large and centralized, small-scale systems present an alternative approach with advantages such as adaptability and lower uptake costs. By harnessing waste heat from the built environment, such small-scale systems become distributed DAC at the urban scale (UrbanDAC) that benefit from existing urban infrastructure, while presenting challenges such as identifying eligible buildings and sustainable transportation and storage of captured CO2. Collaborating with engineering experts and developers of a DAC unit that can be co-located with cooling towers of existing commercial buildings, this study explores the systems-level implications of UrbanDAC using a geographically explicit multi-decision criteria analysis (MCDA) framework. By considering various infrastructure and environmental factors, network analysis and geospatial techniques are applied to identify optimal building candidates for distributed DAC units within Knoxville, Tennessee, USA, as a representative mid-size city. The selected outputs of the MCDA are used to explore a scenario that assumes a CO2 collection and transport route for 20 high-ranking candidate buildings; total carbon emissions, EV energy consumption, and net carbon dioxide removal (CDR) are then calculated. Results suggest that the spatial variation of optimal candidates between thriving commercial areas is an important planning consideration. Examining the feasibility of UrbanDAC at an urban planning level provides valuable insights into the barriers and enabling conditions for CDR in cities, where the vast majority of CO2 emissions are produced, and supports decision-making processes for the implementation of decarbonization initiatives. Through this initial assessment, this research acts as a pilot study for an emerging technology that highlights the importance of distributed DAC technologies in addressing climate change and emphasizes the need for further research and exploration in this domain.