Climate Change: ‘Magic Bullet’ Carbon Solution Takes Big Step

Source: BBC, Matt McGrath, April

The quest for technology for carbon dioxide removal (CDR) from the air received significant scientific endorsement last year with the publication of the IPCC report on keeping the rise in global temperatures to 1.5C this century.

In their “summary for policymakers”, the scientists stated that: “All pathways that limit global warming to 1.5C with limited or no overshoot project the use of CDR …over the 21st century.”

Around the world, a number of companies are racing to develop the technology that can draw down carbon. Swiss company Climeworks is already capturing CO2 and using it to boost vegetable production.

Carbon Engineering says that its direct air capture (DAC) process is now able to capture the gas for under $100 a tonne.

With its new funding, the company plans to build its first commercial facilities. These industrial-scale DAC plants could capture up to one million tonnes of CO2 from the air each year.

So how does this system work?

CO2 is a powerful warming gas but there’s not a lot of it in the atmosphere – for every million molecules of air, there are 410 of CO2.

While the CO2 is helping to drive temperatures up around the world, the comparatively low concentrations make it difficult to design efficient machines to remove the gas.

Carbon Engineering’s process is all about sucking in air and exposing it to a chemical solution that concentrates the CO2. Further refinements mean the gas can be purified into a form that can be stored or utilised as a liquid fuel.

So is this technology a ‘magic bullet’ for climate change?

It’s impossible to say if Carbon Engineering’s idea will emerge as the type of device that makes a major difference in the battle against climate change.

Certainly, the company believes that its machines could become as common as water treatment plants – providing a valuable service, yet hardly noticed by the general public.

Right now, it has secured enough money to build a commercial facility and can draw down carbon for less than $100 a tonne. But there is a big worry that with large investments from the fossil fuel industry, the focus of its efforts could be turned to producing more oil, not just tackling climate change.

Carbon Engineering says that if governments want to invest in its process they are very welcome to do so. If they’re not ready to stump up the cash, the company is happy to take funding from the energy industry as time is so short, and the need for the technology is so great.

“Is it the silver bullet?” asked CEO Steve Oldham.

“I would never say to anybody that you want to put all your eggs in one basket – the future of the planet is very important for us all.

“But having the technology built, available, ready to go, with no harmful chemical side-effects, less land-usage, having those available – that’s a good thing.

“If or when we need them, and if you read the science that’s today – it’s available, it’s ready.”

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