Carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of several greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. You may not know it, but CO2 emissions are not only created from driving our cars or burning fossil fuels, but also from the chemical reactions that occur during the manufacture of cement, paper and other industrial products. While some CO2 is naturally absorbed through vegetation and the ocean, much of it stays in the atmosphere, increasing the frequency and intensity of droughts, floods, and wildfires.

What can we do about it? Well, at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), we are working to develop solutions to reduce carbon pollution through carbon dioxide removal.

What is carbon dioxide removal?

Broadly speaking, carbon dioxide removal encompasses a wide variety of approaches that remove CO2 directly from the atmosphere. Some examples include improving land management practices to increase the amount of carbon stored in soil or using chemical processes to remove CO2 directly from the atmosphere and store it.

CO2 can be stored in geologic formations deep underground, in rocks and ocean reservoirs, or in value-added products like low-carbon concrete.

To learn more about the various carbon dioxide removal approaches, read our fact sheet.

Why do we need it?

Several climate models, including those produced by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, show that reducing the amount of CO2 entering the atmosphere from the industrial, power, and transportation sectors alone is not enough to combat climate change. Unfortunately, reducing emissions won't address the planet-heating pollution that is already in the atmosphere. While DOE continues to advance clean energy technology (e.g., solar and wind) to reduce our carbon emissions we still need to counterbalance emissions from hard-to-abate sectors, such as agriculture, aviation and shipping. Once we reach our decarbonization goals we can then use carbon dioxide removal technologies to also remove legacy emissions from the atmosphere.

It’s important to understand the scale that’s needed for a carbon dioxide removal industry to have the impact we need. By 2050, we need to be removing gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere. To put this into perspective, one gigaton of CO2 is equivalent to approximately one fifth of the United States’ annual CO2 emissions in 2022. 

Research, development, demonstration, and deployment of large-scale carbon dioxide removal technologies will also help create hundreds of thousands of quality rural and industrial jobs across the nation. Investing in these technologies will help spur innovation and transform existing industries, like agriculture, forestry, and manufacturing.

DOE’s role in carbon dioxide removal

In addition to funding research and development of carbon dioxide removal technologies, DOE is collaborating with industry and organizations on both the national and global levels to help spur innovation and reduce costs to expand the market for these technologies.

DOE launched Carbon Negative Shot—an all-hands-on-deck call for innovation in carbon dioxide removal pathways that will capture CO2 from the atmosphere and store it at gigaton scales for less than $100/net metric ton of CO2-equivalent. Check out our video which provides more information about the importance of carbon dioxide removal.

As a co-lead of the Carbon Dioxide Removal Launchpad, DOE and a coalition of countries, including Canada, the European Commission, Iceland, Japan, Norway, and the United Kingdom, are working to reduce the costs and accelerate the development of carbon dioxide removal technologies.

By employing carbon dioxide removal and other technologies that reduce carbon pollution, we can help reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

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