Direct air capture (DAC) is critical for achieving stringent climate targets, yet the environmental implications of its large-scale deployment have not been evaluated in this context. Performing a prospective life cycle assessment for two promising technologies in a series of climate change mitigation scenarios, we find that electricity sector decarbonization and DAC technology improvements are both indispensable to avoid environmental problem-shifting.
Decarbonizing the electricity sector improves the sequestration efficiency, but also increases the terrestrial ecotoxicity and metal depletion levels per tonne of CO2 sequestered via DAC. These increases can be reduced by improvements in DAC material and energy use efficiencies.
DAC exhibits regional environmental impact variations, highlighting the importance of smart siting related to energy system planning and integration. DAC deployment aids the achievement of long-term climate targets, its environmental and climate performance however depend on sectoral mitigation actions, and thus should not suggest a relaxation of sectoral decarbonization targets.