Carbon-capturing technology could be the key to save climate change
By: Emily Chu
Politicians, billionaires, and philanthropists all suggest carbon-capturing technology to combat climate change. The US government, companies like Alphabet and Meta, and others such as Elon Musk have spent millions of dollars of private money to develop the technology.
The problem of climate change has reached an all-time high, as reported by the U.N. The spring 2022 global surface temperature was 1.53°F above the 1900s average. Some small islands could be flooded as a result, which could lead to the displacement of people and further destruction of the land. Carbon dioxide contributes to around 79 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.
However, critics say that carbon-capture technology is not the best solution.
First, they argue that it is expensive. Despite the COVID 19 pandemic, governments and industry spent more than 4.5 billion dollars on carbon-capture technology and storage in 2020 alone. The US government has planned to spend a total of roughly 3.5 billion dollars on the development of carbon-capture technology.
Critics also say that focusing on carbon-capture will distract the government from supporting scientifically-based solutions that are already proven to slow climate change, such as renewable energy.
The history of carbon-capturing technology is short. The first carbon-capture plant was proposed in 1938 and was built in Texas in 1972. Today, there are only 27 carbon capture projects worldwide. Fourteen are in the United States.
Furthermore, the critics argue that the carbon-capturing plants would be hard to model and ineffective.
“The scales these are going to have to be built out at almost defy comprehension,” says Eric Toone, technology lead at Breakthrough Energy Ventures, which has made numerous investments in the carbon removal space. “To capture something like 30 percent of emissions in 2050, you’re talking about building an industry that’s three to five times larger than the global petrochemical industry today.”
Carbon-capture technology depends on processes such as photosynthesis, but when the environment is already at risk, these processes may not be the best to use because there might not be enough resources to support these processes.
Air capture companies such as Climeworks and Carbon Engineering are some of the supporters of carbon-capture technology as a solution to climate change. Carbon Engineering, however, was almost never able to achieve negative emissions, because the carbon capture and storage processes burns oil, which releases more carbon dioxide.
Climeworks, on the other hand, has achieved many milestones for carbon storage. After dissolving carbon in water, it is then mineralized, which sequesters carbon dioxide permanently.
“The CO2 is injected into these rocks and is then mineralized. That literally means the CO2, within two years after injection, is turned into stone,” said Jan Wurzbacher, Climework’s co-founder. “So, it is solidified a kilometer underground and thereby it is absolutely, permanently stored for the next hundreds of millions of years.”
However, as there have been multiple campaigns to suggest carbon-capture is effective, questions about the scientific aspect of carbon-capture technology remain.
Nikki Reisch, of the Center for International Environmental Law, says that capturing carbon from the air is scientifically unproven because regular air doesn’t contain high levels of carbon dioxide. Therefore, it would take large amounts of time, energy, and money to create a project that would capture carbon efficiently.