Chevron and Occidental Petroleum are investing in technology that will suck carbon dioxide directly from the air near oil fields and store it underground as a way to address climate change, the companies announced Jan. 9.

The development is part of a broader ambitious effort to remove fossil fuel pollution from the atmosphere.

Scientists say such a move is necessary because it’s impossible to avoid the worst consequences of climate change—rising seas, inundated cities, extreme heat, and greater levels of disease, famine, and death—by cutting greenhouse gas emissions alone.

The technology is being developed by Carbon Engineering Ltd., a British Columbia-based firm that receives U.S. Energy Department funding. It is developing direct-air-capture technology using giant fans that suck carbon dioxide from the air. The company says the technique will cut the climate impact of fossil fuel use and assist in enhanced oil recovery techniques.

Carbon Engineering is also developing “air to fuels” technology that combines carbon dioxide scrubbed from the atmosphere with hydrogen to produce low-carbon transportation fuel for existing cars, trucks, and airplanes.

Investments Not Disclosed

“With an increasing focus worldwide on the need for aggressive emissions reductions, CE’s technology can play a major role, and energy industry leaders like Occidental and Chevron will greatly accelerate commercialization of CE’s technology,” Carbon Engineering CEO Steve Oldham said in a statement.

The company said Chevron Technology Ventures and Oxy Low Carbon Ventures have made undisclosed investments in Carbon Engineering’s technology and business plan.

Oxy and Chevron’s specific investment in the company is confidential, Oldham told Bloomberg Environment.

Chevron spokesman Jan Sieving said Jan. 8 that the company doesn’t provide details on its investment numbers. Oxy declined to comment Jan. 8.

Directly removing carbon from the air is among many techniques being developed to clean the atmosphere, but no carbon removal technology has been proven at a scale that makes a difference for global warming. Carbon Engineering is one of a handful of firms attempting to prove the technology.

Nobody knows now much mass-scale carbon removal will cost or what its impacts will be, so major energy company investments may be important to determine if carbon-removal can occur on a mass scale in a cost-effective way, Michael Wara, an energy policy researcher and professor at Stanford Law School, told Bloomberg Environment.

“We’re going to be using fossil fuels in some parts of the economy for a long time,” Wara said. “If we can figure out how to cost-effectively remove as much carbon as we’re putting into the air, that would be a huge win.”

Scaling Up

Chevron called Carbon Engineering’s air-to-fuels technology “a prime target area” for Chevron’s investments, Chevron Technology Ventures President Barbara Burger said in a statement.

California’s climate policies, such as the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standards, have created a demand for Carbon Engineering’s technology, Oldham said.

Direct-air-capture technology is too expensive to develop at a mass scale today, and more demonstration plants are needed to determine its viability, said Jennifer Wilcox, a chemical engineering professor studying carbon removal technologies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts.

Oil company investments in direct-air-capture are necessary to help drive down the costs of the technology and refine the techniques so it can eventually be scaled up enough to help reduce the impact of global warming, Wilcox said.

Negative emissions technologies “are essential to meeting our climate goals at this point,” Wilcox said.