I see several issues with your thesis:

  1. There’s lots of good ideas on the lab bench (or just off it), but little incentive to invest in bringing them to market. The market just isn’t there, because the product is much more expensive than current technology.
  2. In addition to the usual investment risks of not being able to productionalize an innovative idea at a competitive price, there’s the added risk that somebody else will come along and productionalize a newer idea at a better price. That makes the proposed return less attractive relative to the risk.
  3. Productionalization involves bringing the price down, quite far down, which in turn, according to Wright’s “Law”, requires making quite a lot of it.

Take ambient CO2 capture, for instance. There are several technologies that are in or through the pilot stage, such as the USNavy/Palo Alto Research Center process which extracts it from sea water, Climeworks, and Carbon Engineering that extract it from the air, as well as others. There are also a host of good ideas on or coming off the lab bench.

(From this story about the USNavy/Palo Alto Research Center process)

But they’re all very expensive. And given the quantities that would have to be produced for Wright’s “Law” to bring down the price to where it could compete, gradually rising carbon taxes would take 15–20 years before the technology could pay for itself.

Those are very long-term investments, much too large to easily persuade any government to make. It’s not R&D. There’s plenty of that already done.

But perhaps there are other ways. Back in 2013 Professor Myles Allen, Professor of Geosystem Science in the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford and Head of the Climate Dynamics Group in the University’s Department of Physics, published an out-of-the-box idea that might solve the problem.

[…] Subsidizing wind turbines and cutting down on your own carbon footprint might mean we burn through the vast quantity of carbon contained in the planet’s fossil fuels a little slower. But it won’t make any difference if we burn it in the end.

We need to rethink. For instance, if you suppose that the annual UN climate talks will save us, forget it. I met a delegate at the last talks in Doha in December who told me he had just watched a two-hour debate that culminated in placing square brackets around a semi-colon.

So much for Paris!

Fortunately, there is a solution. It is perfectly possible to burn fossil carbon and not release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere: you have to filter it out of the flue gases, pressurise it, and re-inject, or ‘sequester’, it back underground.

If you’re using fossil carbon to drive a car or fly a plane, you just have to pay someone else to bury CO2 for you.

Note that getting it out of the free air or ocean surface at the point you are going to use it (sequester or combine with “green” hydrogen to make fuel) could turn out to be cheaper than extracting it at the stack then shipping or piping it.

So with a trillion tonnes to go, we need to increase the fraction we bury at an average rate of one per cent for every 10 billion tonnes of global emissions.

That’s not a policy — that’s a fact. For every 10 billion tonnes we emit without increasing this sequestered fraction by one per cent, we will just have to bury more later in order to catch up.

If this is what needs to be done, why not just make it a condition of licensing to extract or import fossil fuels? In forestry, if you fell trees, the law obliges you to replant.

We must use the same principle: a law to compel a slowly rising percentage of carbon dioxide emissions to be sequestered and stored.

Fossil fuel industrialists will need a few years to gear up, but they won’t need taxpayer-funded subsidies.

They’ll simply need to do this to stay in business. All past evidence suggests that when industry is faced with technical challenges it needs to overcome, it’s ingenious at finding ways of doing so.

Basically, then, we start by requiring them to bury a small fraction, increasing the fraction periodically. Start with 1%. Climeworks’ current pilot plant:

Since going onstream in early June, the 900tonne/year DAC plant has already cracked the $600 barrier says Valentin Gutknecht, Climeworks’s head of business development. At this price, it is competitive in remote locations, where CO2 for carbonated drinks and greenhouses must be trucked over long distances.

At 1% this works out to $6.00/ton of CO2, roughly equivalent to a $20/ton carbon tax. Of course you also have the cost of sequestering, or perhaps combining it with “green” hydrogen from electrolysis and feeding it back into the system. So perhaps start with 1/2%.

And make it increase, at a rate that allows Wright’s “Law” (see above) to keep the price coming down while the volumes increase.

I’m not offering this as “TEH ANSWER’, but at least it’s outside the usual “pry money out of the government” box. It will offer immediate profits for productionalizing the technology. That will be far more attractive to investors, as will similar schemes.

I’d expect it to sell pretty well in the US, where most voters aren’t adamantly opposed to energy premiums like $20/ton, as long as they can see them doing something immediately useful. And also immediately productive of JOBS, which the current administration cares about.

Indeed, CO2 capture and sequestering, being a brand new industry, could productively be restricted to within the US borders, allowing the administration to “point with pride” to an employment-related industry expansion.

And also, the fact that the money would be market-driven, never passing through the hands of the government and its bureaucrats, would also be a big selling point to this administration.

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