The latest science affirms that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) by midcentury requires both deep emissions reductions and natural and technological carbon removal. Direct air capture (DAC) is one carbon removal technology that is receiving growing investment and interest. Understanding its environmental and social impacts will be critical to scaling up responsibly and equitably.

This working paper examines the energy, land, water, chemical, construction and infrastructure requirements of DAC development and operation. DAC is expected to have similar onsite resource usage impacts as other types of industrial infrastructure, but produce zero or almost zero onsite emissions that could negatively impact human health or the environment, particularly if powered by renewable energy. Responsible project design and regulation under the existing U.S. environmental regulatory framework can reduce adverse environmental impacts onsite and in relevant supply chains.

A key social benefit of DAC is expected to be job creation, both onsite to operate the plant and in planning, construction, engineering, and other functions in the supply chain. Legal frameworks like community benefit agreements and community workforce agreements can ensure that workers and communities benefit from hosting a DAC plant. Social impacts depend on the degree to which potentially impacted communities have access to information and can provide input into siting and project development decisions.

Because DAC is an emerging technology and its impacts vary by project, assessments will be needed on a project-by-project basis to understand expected environmental and social impacts in relation to alternatives or a no-action scenario. Enactment of policies that require consideration of equity in DAC development will be necessary to avoid historical patterns of inequitable infrastructure siting. This paper recommends inclusive community engagement and policy guardrails to ensure responsible and equitable deployment.