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Why carbon capture is so important to avoid the worst effects of the climate emergency
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Why carbon capture is so important to avoid the worst effects of the climate emergency

Three orange and white smokestacks in the background rise above a series of industrial buildings and corridors, with a few people in safety vests walking around.


With the ongoing climate emergency and nations’ commitments to meet net-zero goals by 2050, there’s a heightened need to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions through whatever means possible. Carbon capture and Storage (CCS) and carbon capture utilization and sequestration are both included in the report. mitigation pathwaysThe Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has set out these guidelines.

Despite this, carbon capture technology has been described as a Distraction from supporting renewable energiesAs it extends the life of the oil-and-gas industry. But CCUS cannot be ignored.

CCUS technologies are technologies that concentrate carbon dioxide in various streams, including combustion stacks and air. They either make use of it or store it away. I am a researcher on the technical development of carbon capture, and previously managed the innovation around CCUS. Carbon Management CanadaThese technologies have been a part of my life for many years.

The climate emergency is complex.

Mitigation — finding ways to avoid the worst effects of the climate emergency — is a hugely complex problem. The problem is itself complex. Multifaceted, value-laden and fraught with uncertainty. There is no silver lining.

Complexity science — a research approach that studies the interconnectedness of dynamic systems — tells us that in order to deal with complex problems, we need to apply non-linear thinking (draw connections from multiple concepts) and be adaptive and learn. Renewable energy sources are needed to replace fossil fuels for electricity production, given the urgent need to decarbonize. However, this will take some time. CCUS can offer a technical solution that is much needed during this transition period.

We also require CCUS to decarbonize heavy industrial sectors like cement and steel. Canada produces approximately 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.. Using renewable energy won’t affect their emissions much because carbon dioxide is released from the material used in the process, and not through combustion. CCUS technologies are a powerful tool to accelerate decarbonization.

Time is crucial in the race for decarbonization. CCUS technologies have become a reality. They are not only experimental or a curiosity, but they are almost ready to be utilized.

Three orange and white smokestacks in the background rise above a series of industrial buildings and corridors, with a few people in safety vests walking around.
In 2014, visitors visited a portion of the Boundary Dam Power Plant in Estevan, Saskatchewan. The carbon capture and storage project is the world’s first commercial-scale operation.

Canada has proven its worth. Boundary Dam CCSA coal-fired power plant near Estevan, Saskatchewan. The technology relies upon a liquid that absorbs carbon dioxide and lets the other gases through. It then releases pure carbon into another stream, allowing it capture and storage.

Over the past seven years, this demonstration project — the world’s first — has provided much information about capturing carbon dioxide from a coal-power plant, and has become a benchmark for technology developers. Researchers like me learned that liquid sorbents are substances that absorb carbon dioxide molecules. Large amounts of energyIt is more effective for regeneration than solid sorbents and releases toxic chemicals over time.

Identifying challenges like these — and proposing solutions — is how technological breakthroughs evolve. This project also showed how carbon dioxide can still be used. How technology can be used in monitoring that containment.

Encourage innovation

A flurry innovative technologies are now following the small CCUS steps made almost a decade ago. Their commercial deployment can be measured either in months or years.

For example, SvanteThe carbon capture technology uses a structured solidsorbent to bind carbon dioxide. The solid sorbent is placed in a rotating column that captures diluted carbon dioxide from flue gas and releases concentrated carbon dioxide when it’s exposed to steam. Svante is currently scaling its operations and working with hard-to-abate industrial emissions — such as in cement and steel industries.

Silhouette of gases rising from an industrial complex with a golden sunset.
The chimneys of the Tenaris Steel Mill Factory, in Dalmine (Italy) emit plumes.
(AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

It is marketed as an industrial lung. CO₂ solutions Inc.It is also developing carbon capture technology by using a naturally occurring enzyme. This captures carbon dioxide from flue stream and provides pure carbon dioxide stream for chemical feedstocks for building material and fuels.

These are just a few of many. Examples of CCUS innovationsbeing developed and commercialized worldwide by start-ups and small to medium enterprises. Yet, CCUS technology continues to be perceived as a disruptive technology. High-risk and expensive.

We need to be committed and willful

The Carbon capture costsThe capital cost of building the system, condensing the incoming carbon dioxide stream, and providing the energy needed to purify it. As new technologies are developed, the cost of carbon dioxide conversion will drop.

Even in the best of circumstances, they will still be expensive. If we want to add value to carbon dioxide, thermodynamics tell us that it will inevitably require energy — and energy has a cost.

As a society, we have accepted paying for proper disposal of solid wastes. Industry must also accept responsibility for carbon dioxide emissions. Without significant financial commitment and political will, we cannot expect to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 C.

Critics might say we are playing with our lives. Unproven technologiesMany of these technologies are not yet proven, however. While many of these technologies are being challenged by their scale-up, this is common for any new technology in any industry. We shouldn’t paint CCUS with a large brush stroke, but rather understand these technologies with granularity and in context.

Many industrial emissions, including lime kilns in the cement and pulp-and-paper industries, require carbon dioxide capture from these processes. As we consider alternative fuel sources for heating and transportation, we also need to consider industrial emissions in different sectors.

Demonstration programs allow us to continue learning about how technology changes, how social systems respond and adjust to these changes, and how we can change policies. We don’t have the luxury of finding the best solution to a complex problem like the climate emergency.

Continue reading:
How world leaders hope to reach net zero emissions by 2050 – and why some experts are worried. Climate Fight podcast part 2

Instead, we should use our best judgment to deploy technologies, learn from cases, and improve our technology understanding. We need to adopt CCUS technologies that are carefully chosen and reduce emissions as quickly as possible, while continuing to improve them and deploying renewable energy sources.

Canada has contributed to CCUS by innovating and researching, and has demonstrated a few success stories with CCUS. Our commitment to Set a carbon priceWe have a better chance of achieving decarbonization by using CCUS technologies. We are now in the all-hands-on deck phase to quickly mitigate the catastrophic effects of the climate emergency. Let’s shift the narrative on CCUS and reduce carbon emissions with all the available tools.


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