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CO2 removal can boost NM economy, fight climate change

Climate change affects New Mexico with more severity than many states. As the sixth-fastest warming U.S. state, we’re experiencing earlier springs, hotter summers, larger wildfires and more intense droughts. We urge our leaders in Washington to act with new federal policies and stronger incentives for climate solutions like carbon dioxide removal (CDR), creating an opportunity to both protect our planet and grow our economy.

We can’t afford not to. Every study, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the National Academies, indicates we must administer large-scale removal of excess CO2 from our atmosphere alongside ambitious emissions reductions. The Biden administration has underscored this critical role for CDR in its climate strategy.

What’s exciting is that New Mexico is already positioned to lead in carbon removal and storage. Carbon storage research – ongoing at New Mexico Tech for the last 17 years – has identified 10 gigatons of CO2 storage in deep saline aquifers and equivalent storage in depleted oil fields. Our good geologic fortune can provide tens of thousands of well-paying jobs for New Mexicans in a growing carbon management industry and repurpose trained workers from oil and gas industries.

Carbon dioxide removal technologies like direct air capture (DAC) pull excess CO2 from ambient air and safely store it underground or repurpose it in products. Coupled with natural solutions like planting more trees and adopting farm practices to store more CO2 in the soil, DAC is a critical and complementary tool in our climate toolbox. But we need far greater investment in research, development and deployment to scale DAC technology by midcentury when we’ll need it most. New Mexico universities and national labs are excellent incubators for New Mexico-grown solutions.

At New Mexico Tech, my team studies ways to efficiently and safely store captured CO2. Injected into geological formations more than a mile below the earth’s surface, carbon is permanently trapped in bedrock where it eventually mineralizes, becoming more dense and secure over time. New Mexico is prime real estate for these underground formations and has more existing infrastructure that could be repurposed to store carbon than any other state.

This massive capacity for CO2 storage will provide tremendous benefits to the state’s economy. Recent analysis concludes that DAC will create hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs in manufacturing, construction and plant operations as well as drilling wells and moving fluids from point of capture to point of storage.

We’ll need all hands-on deck to commercialize DAC and carbon storage. United Airlines, Microsoft and a growing number of corporations are investing in DAC, and Tesla’s founder Elon Musk and XPRIZE are rewarding $100 million for the best CDR technology. But it’s a fraction of the investment needed. A challenge as massive as climate change requires research effort at scales that only national initiatives can muster. Policymakers should create stronger incentives for more private sector deployment. Not long ago, solar and wind energy were in a similar nascent stage of development, and just like renewables, DAC can be scaled up.

Our leaders in New Mexico and in Washington have a ripe opportunity to advance carbon removal and storage while revitalizing our economy and creating jobs of the future. By pushing policies that incentivize and invest in CDR, New Mexicans will benefit from both climate stability and economic opportunity here at home.

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