Is Carbon Capture The Answer To Global Warming? And How Much Will It Cost?

This story about carbon capture was first published by CleanTechnica

If conservatives reactionaries are pissed off about global warming, their heads are likely to explode when they find out that even reducing carbon emissions to zero — which has almost no likelihood of happening — won’t be enough to keep the earth from dangerously overheating. Even a 2 degree Celsius rise in average global temperatures will result in catastrophic changes, including more powerful storms, rising sea levels, famine and drought. Some climate scientists are predicting double that amount of warming — or more.

Carbon Capture Is Critical

carbon capture norwayWhile we focus our attention on electric cars and renewable energy, and celebrate advances in both, the truth is that humanity must not only figure out how to stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere but also how to remove much of what is already there. The technology for doing so does not exist today and even if it did, the cost of implementing it would be enormous. We are digging our graves with every drop of fossil fuel we burn, but don’t know how to stop.

Glen Peters is a climate researcher at the Cicero Center for Climate Research in Oslo. He has been the leader of the Global Climate Project, which provides data to scientists worldwide, since 2001 and was one of the most cited researchers in the scientific community in 2016. Peters is not especially optimistic about the future. He thinks the goal of the Paris climate accords to limit global warming to 1.5º C is all well and good, but doesn’t believe it is technically, economically, or politically possible.

He tells Norway’s VG News, “There are media reports of images showing wind turbines and solar panels. It is good and good, but meeting the goals in the Paris agreement requires so-called negative emissions —  removing much of the CO₂ that has already been released. The subject is little talked about, but politicians will eventually come to understand what a huge task it is.”

Huge is hardly the right word. Peters says we need to be removing ten billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year by 2050 — about 25% of current emissions. It would require a whole new industry many times larger than the fossil fuel industry to capture the carbon dioxide, compress it, and transport it safely to storage areas. Several new carbon capture facilities would need to be brought online every week for decades to make it all work.

The Irony Of Ironies

Peters says the carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere will need to be compressed and stored underground, possibly in the cavities left behind after oil and gas have been pumped out. The Sleipner field in the North Sea can accept a million tons of carbon dioxide annually. “But it will require many such fields. We would have to have thousands of such fields,” Peters says. If ever there is ever a fine irony contest, that notion would certainly qualify for top honors.

Peters tells VG News he has strong doubts the carbon capture idea will ever gain traction with world leaders. “I have serious reservations, yes, to put it diplomatically. There is no discussion among politicians about how to achieve these goals. Who should start with this? Who’s going to save most? There is no discussion of the financial means to promote the development of CO₂ removal on a large scale.”

Is There Reason For Optimism?

Vidar Helgesen, Norway’s climate minister, agrees with most of what Peters has to say, but is more optimistic that solutions can be found.

“Now we are waiting for a UN report on this issue, which is expected next year, and it will probably be important to getting more people to search for carbon capture technologies. CO₂ handling is not a fantasy technology. Various CO₂ handling technologies have been used in various locations in the world for decades. Today there are over twenty large scale CO₂ handling plants globally. For example, in Norway, 17 million tons of CO₂ have been accumulated over the last 20 years.”

One of those facilities is operated by the Norwegian Technology Center at Mongstad, which has recently entered into a letter of intent with several Chinese companies to co-operate on the development of carbon dioxide handling systems and other low emission technologies. “We need carbon negativity if we are to achieve the goals of the Paris agreement. Norway is one of the few countries working on carbon capture and storage solutions on an industrial scale.”

“This is the subject of discussions with the EU, the United Kingdom, and in California,” Helgesen adds. “The opening we now have in China also gives us new opportunities for dialogue with them about this. In addition, Norway is working to stop the extensive destruction of rain forests to preserve their enormous ability to capture and store huge amounts of carbon dioxide.  So I share Peter’s view that little is done, but nobody does more than Norway.”

Carbon Conversion Research

Other than compressing carbon dioxide and storing it underground, other researchers are working on turning it into carbon neutral fuels such as hydrogen, methane, ethanol, methanol, and butanol. While not part of the overall carbon removal picture, at least they would not add more carbon to the environment while carbon capture technology is evolving.

Researchers at the Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea claim they have recently discovered new ways to convert carbon dioxide into methane — the primary component of natural gas — using sunlight and a titanium-based catalyst. In a paper describing their findings published by Materials Today, the scientists say they have discovered a synthesis method which rapidly reduces titanium dioxide at low temperatures using sodium borohydride, a strong reducing agent.

“The newly developed titanium dioxide photocatalyst is superior to the other photocatalysts reported so far. as it has outstanding carbon dioxide conversion efficiency as well as excellent stability,” says the lead author of the study, which reports a carbon dioxide to methane conversion ration of more than 12%. Preliminary results also suggest more exciting news in the future. Platinum nanoparticles may boost conversion rates considerably. “We would like to contribute to the development of carbon dioxide reduction and recycling technology by conducting further researches to improve conversion efficiency to the extent that it can be commercialized.”

So, There’s Hope, Right?

Maybe there is hope yet, assuming humanity comes to recognize the impending danger and learns how to work cooperatively to address it. Yeah, I know. Fat chance, huh?

Hat tip to Leif Hansen, our correspondent in charge of the Norway desk. 






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writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island. You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.