Many solutions to climate change aim to reduce the amount of CO2 that is produced and released into the atmosphere. However, carbon capture, utilization and storage or sequestration (CCUS), often referred to as “carbon capture,” as its name suggests, actually removes carbon from the atmosphere. So, if we can simply remove CO2 from the atmosphere, why don’t we install these devices on every street corner and reverse the damage we’ve done?
As you’ve probably guessed, the solution isn’t as simple as that.
What is Carbon Capture?
CCUS is a technology that comes in many forms but has two primary functions: capture CO2 directly out of the atmosphere or as it is produced in facilities. The captured carbon is then permanently stored underground or is used in other processes, such as the production of concrete and low-carbon synthetic fuels.
This technology dates back to 1938 when it was first proposed, and the first large-scale project launched in 1972. Today, less than 30 commercial facilities are operating around the world, and most of these projects are in North America. Despite billions of dollars invested into CCUS, the industry has seen limited growth, while discussions about the technology’s value in fighting climate change are littered with skepticism. Even still, many countries around the world are continuing to invest in carbon capture technology and incorporating it into their net-zero strategies.
Barriers to Growth for Carbon Capture
Unfortunately, dozens of technical, economic, social, and political barriers restrict carbon capture technology’s potential. To list a few of many examples:
- The immense costs, infrastructure and land required to implement this technology present an insurmountable logistical challenge.
- Given the technical challenges of implementing CCUS systems, experts fear they cannot be scaled up in time to meet carbon reduction goals.
- Companies can continue to burn fossil fuels as they rely on CCUS, prolonging the transition to clean energy.
- Pipelines required to transport CO2 raise questions about health hazards and environmental risks.
There are plenty of arguments against CCUS, but does this mean the billions of dollars invested into this technology have been wasted?
Strategy is Key
The fight against climate change has made it undoubtedly clear that we need a diverse range of solutions to solve humanity’s greatest challenge. As discussed in a previous EnvironBuzz publication, net zero must be achieved through a balance of reduced carbon emissions and carbon offsets.
Though CCUS didn’t turn out to be the solution the world had hoped for, it will likely still play a vital role in reducing global emissions. Global carbon emissions are made up of both avoidable and unavoidable CO2. In other words, some sectors cannot be completely decarbonized.
The cement industry is one example. Even if cement plants were powered with 100% renewable energy, cement itself is a product of a chemical reaction that produces CO2. Unfortunately, the rapid rate of urban expansion and lack of alternatives means that carbon emissions from this industry are not going away anytime soon, threatening the world’s progress towards net-zero. Carbon capture and storage can fill this gap where other advancements, such as ‘green’ cement, have yet to become a viable solution.
The reality is that CCUS works, and its ability to capture CO2 has been proven. Though the carbon capture industry has yet to grow to the level where it can dominate the climate movement, in unison with other solutions, global net-zero goals can be achieved.
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