For decade, the human race has been pumping CO2 into the atmosphere at alarming rates, and we are well on our way to using up our carbon budget, and pushing ourselves closer to the 2 degrees temperature rise of gloom. Unless the world goes carbon neutral by the time we use up our carbon budget, which will be in the next few years, we will need other solutions to help clean up the pollution form our atmosphere. The likelihood of us getting to carbon neutrality any time soon is very very slim, and therefore we will need to rely on new innovations, and quickly.
There are solutions being used across the world to cut down on CO2 emissions, but just cutting down means the atmosphere is still being polluted. Some coal power stations are taking measure to filter most of the CO2 before it reaches the air. As explained on Popular Mechanics, one of the biggest of these is the WA Parish plant in Texas, which filters around 5000 tons of CO2 a day from its chimneys. That means that there is still 555 tons of CO2 flooding the atmosphere from this plant every day. The irony is that they use the captured CO2 pump it underground in order to access fossil oil, in a similar method to the controversial fracking. So in actual fact, this filtered CO2 is contributing to carbon emissions in its own way by allowing access to oil that will be combusted in vehicles across the world.
The CO2 they filter from their pollution and pump underground will be stored for millennia to come, so they are certainly getting something right. In actual fact, storage of CO2 could be the key to reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. With the efficient capture of CO2 from the air, it is possible to store it under the ground, without enabling access to hard to get fossil fuel.
A number of innovations are already beginning to create and utilise carbon capture solutions, which enable capture from the ambient air, and not just from on top of coal power plants, where there is a much higher concentration of CO2. We have discussed the Swiss innovators Climeworks a number of time on Clean Fuel Now. Their plant in Hinwil is already being used commercially, and they are also involved in a project in Iceland in which they are storing the captured carbon deep underground, far away from the risk it posed in the atmosphere.
There are also other solutions such as Global Thermostat. Global Thermostat filter CO2 from the ambient air by using filters, and waste heat to release the carbon, similarly to Climeworks. Like Climeworks they have seen the commercial possibilities of mining CO2 from the air. CO2 is necessary in many industries, such as green houses, preservation of food, carbonated drinks, and creating carbon neutral synthetic fuel.
Whilst these innovations offer a glimmer of hope that we can eventually create a carbon negative society, they will have to both scale up extraordinarily quickly in order to make a difference in the near future. For this to happen, a shift in policy and investment are vitally important. The current instinctual policy worldwide is to reduce CO2 emissions, which on one hand is correct. But what it doesn’t do is encourage substantial investment in Carbon capture and storage technology. Switzerland could soon write into legislation a bill that will recognise carbon neutral e-synthetic fuels into car importation policy within Article 16, which would give impetus within the country to develop such technologies further. With a commercial motivation, it is likely that investment and implementation moves at a far faster rate.
The WA Parish plant, Climeworks, Global Thermostat, and all the other companies and organisations innovating and experimenting with carbon capture technologies, together have an enormous role to play in creating further efficiencies in this industry. Even those like the WA Parish plant, that use the CO2 to essentially unleash more CO2 into the atmosphere, have the incentive to make their process more efficient and will therefore have the data and experience to catalyse carbon capture and storage technology.
Popular Mechanics: What is Carbon Capture