Will Carbon Capture and Storage Ever Work?

In Climate, News, Technology by

Is carbon dioxide removal and sequestration the answer to our climate change problems, and if so, can it be done cost effectively?

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine is looking into another controversial tactic to fight climate change.

Scientists are concerned about the unintended consequences of nurturing ecosystems to breathe in more carbon dioxide or building machines that react with greenhouse gases and sequester them. There isn’t much research out there on the economics and effectiveness of these strategies.

Many activists are worried that carbon dioxide removal technologies will detract from climate change mitigation efforts, that they will cost too much, or that nations will see them as a license to keep polluting.

However, if greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow, CO2 removal techniques might be our only option.

Keeping warming in check would require methods that result in negative greenhouse gas emissions, whether using air capture systems or bioenergy coupled with carbon capture and sequestration setups (Climatewire, March 24).

This poses an immense engineering challenge to counteract humanity’s influence on the planet, so the National Academies is chalking out a plan that could bridge the divide between where the technology stands and where it needs to go (Climatewire, May 19).

It’s not an easy task, though.

Removing carbon dioxide gets at the root of the climate change problem, unlike geoengineering, which masks it. But there are some unique challenges.

Carbon dioxide itself is not a very reactive molecule, so many proposals for sucking it up require an energy input. This means careful life-cycle accounting to make sure that more carbon dioxide comes out of the atmosphere in deploying these systems than goes in.