How Effective Is Carbon Capture Technology?
Aug 16 2019
As one of the main contributing factors to manmade climate change, the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere must be brought under control if we are to avoid a nightmare scenario wherein global temperatures rise by more than 1.5°C. Reducing emissions is an integral part of this, but removing existing carbon from the air is another strategy which could yield significant benefits.
Those benefits have now been analysed and quantified in a new study from the European Institute on Economics and the Environment (EIEE) in Milan, Italy. Published in the journal Nature Communications, the report uses an inter-model comparison of how Direct Air Carbon Capture and Storage (DACCS) technology could mitigate the cost of reducing CO2 concentrations – and the factors limiting its ability to do so.
Time is of the essence
The study looked at two emerging DACCS technologies which are currently at the developmental stage and assessed the impact they might have on both the amount of carbon in our atmosphere and the financial cost of reducing it. The report yielded good news on both fronts; not only could the DACCS approaches remove a cumulative 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon per year, they could also cut carbon costs by more than half.
However, the main sticking point revealed by the researchers is the timescale involved. For the DACCS techniques to work effectively and on a large-scale basis, they would require the widespread production of both water-based and ammonia-based sorbents. Doing so may well command up to a fifth of our overall energy generation capacity by 2100 if the technology is to work at 100%, the study says.
While some CCS technologies are already in operation (such as the CCS facilities at Drax power station in North Yorkshire, which is the first of its kind in Europe to capture CO2 from the combustion of timber), we are still a long way off the kind of capabilities used in the EIEE report’s modelling projections.
A multifaceted approach is required
Therefore, the risks of relying on CCS without significant reductions of emissions at the same time could prove to be disastrous – especially if the technology does not evolve as efficiently or as affordably as has been predicted. In the event that it doesn’t materialise, the CO2 will still be present in the atmosphere and being added to every day, resulting in a global hike in temperatures of as much as 0.8°C.
It’s for this reason that the researchers advise pursuing DACCS as a legitimate source of carbon mitigation – but not the only one. At the same time, we should focus on slashing our emissions by transitioning to greener forms of transportation, investigating innovations in cleaner forms of energy generation such as biogas, reducing our individual power consumption quotas and dispensing with a meat-based diet.
It’s only in this way that we can be sure that we can meet the obligations outlined at the Paris Climate Summit in 2016 and limit global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C. Otherwise, putting all our eggs in the CCS basket is akin to relying on a safety net that hasn’t actually been constructed yet, all the while still shooting acrobats out of a cannon and expecting them to land safely.
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