- Nidal Abou Mrad
- BBC World Service
If we do not want to suffer the worst possible consequences of climate change, we must have reached “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050, that is, we must equalize the amount of carbon dioxide that we emit into the atmosphere and eliminate it.
United Nations scientists warn that we are on track to exceed 2 degrees in global temperature increase. This is news that will make many areas of our planet very difficult to live with.
According to the scientists, in order to avoid this, in addition to natural solutions such as planting trees, technologies such as carbon capture and storage will also be important in this process. However, some environmentalists argue that this is not the way to go.
How does carbon capture and storage work?
A number of natural methods, from planting trees to agricultural practices that absorb carbon dioxide from the soil, are applied as simple and inexpensive methods of reducing CO² in the atmosphere.
But since the 1970s, “carbon capture and storage technologies” (CCS) have also been promoted as quick fixes.
“There are many different methods, and the most common is the capture of carbon dioxide from industrial power plants that use fossil fuels,” says Samantha McCulloch, head of capture and storage at the International Energy Agency.
The process begins with the transmission of the gas released from the industrial source of an absorber containing a solvent. CO² in this gas is collected, other gases are left behind. The solvent is then reused by using the heat of CO and recycled. The purified CO² is stored underground in rock.
“Another method is to directly decompose CO² from the air. In both methods, we store CO² in geological formations underground, removing it from the carbon cycle that is causing the planet to heat up,” McCulloch says.
Do they trigger the use of fossil fuels?
But some environmentalists are skeptical of these methods. Their main concern is that carbon capture technologies focus on quick fixes rather than reducing emissions.
The international climate organization Global Witness has investigated whether these technologies could help achieve its goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2021.
Dominic Eagleton Global Witness says the following conclusions emerged from the research:
“[Ces technologies]are not a reliable solution to reduce carbon emissions in a timely manner, but can also lead to the extraction of more oil.”
“The best way to stop emissions is not to use fossil fuels,” said Eagleton.
“Some environmentalists believe that money spent on improving carbon capture should be spent on increasing the use of clean energy,” says climate researcher Piera Patrizio of Imperial College London.
“But given the urgency of the situation, we need to phase out carbon, and it’s unrealistic to think we don’t need these technologies.”
“The Inevitable Solution” on the Net Zero Path
“The IPCC has recommended the use of carbon removal technologies for the first time in April,” said Patrizio.
However, some argue that reducing emissions caused by heavy industries such as steel and cement is only possible with technologies such as CCS.
“These industries often require very high temperatures. Additionally, about a quarter of industrial emissions are chemical reactions that cannot be avoided by using alternative fuels,” says McCulloch of the International Energy Agency.
Patrizio argues that creating new forests and renovating old ones is more acceptable because they are less harmful to the environment, but some of these methods are “not effective in the long run”:
“The ability of a tree to isolate the carbon is temporary because once the tree matures, it ceases to absorb carbon unless you are protecting the surrounding forest. Carbon capture techniques methods have not this problem. with CSS, carbon dioxide is stored forever in geological landfills. “
Proponents of these technologies also point out that some countries do not have the conditions to invest in clean energy and say there is a need for CCS.
Another point to which they draw attention is that of “program groups”.
“There are groups of emission sources from many different sectors. These major issue groups may require capture infrastructure as much CO² as possible. This is seen as a model of success,” McCulloch says.
“Young and expensive technology”
“But it’s still a very young technology,” says Christoph Beuttler, founder of ClimeWorks, the first commercial plant to absorb CO² from the air.
“Our job is to build propellers that will extract carbon from the atmosphere and will store CO2 underground.”
Unlike carbon capture plants that are directly linked to fossil fuel power plants, ClimeWorks extracts CO² directly from ambient air:
“We are based in Iceland, but the work we do affects the amount of CO² everywhere. CCS captures gases before they enter the atmosphere, whereas we are already collecting carbon from the air.”
This method, called “direct air capture” (DAC), is considered less controversial because it is not directly related to emission sources.
The technology is powered by renewable resources, which makes it sustainable.
But like any new technology, there’s no telling how useful it will be on a large scale. Its potential and scale are open to question.
“The biggest challenge for carbon capture is its cost. It requires significant investment not only in capture facilities, but also in storage. We have seen progress, but we are still at a very early stage of this technology, “says McCulloch.
Proponents of carbon capture technologies point out that even if we update our energy systems and reduce new emissions by 2030 or 2040, CO² from the past will remain in the atmosphere, calling it “historical carbon”. capture”.
What should be the priority?
So what method should be preferred? Should we focus on renewable energy or primarily invest in carbon capture?
Some argue that the two should progress together.
“Isn’t CCS making our planet greener? It’s not fair to pretend that proponents of this technology don’t care about biodiversity, of course we do,” says Imperial College’s Patrizio from London.
McCulloch notes that the International Energy Agency’s latest analysis of carbon capture prioritizes “an approach that uses many different options at the same time”:
“If we have the ambition to reach net zero by 2050, we need to make drastic changes in the way we use, transport and produce energy. Our world needs a full set of solutions. Renewable energy, energy efficiency, increased use of hydrogen technologies and carbon capture…it’s there. he has a role.