It is well-known that excess carbon dioxide in our atmosphere traps heat from the sun and warms our planet, resulting in dramatic changes to the world’s climate. While humans continue to rely on carbon-emitting fossil fuels for energy, CO2 in our atmosphere will keep rising. Fortunately, carbon capture technologies provide us with opportunities to reduce the amounts of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.
This article will shed some light on carbon capture techniques and how they can improve the state of our environment. We’ll also look into how carbon is stored or utilized once it is captured. Then, we’ll explore the efficiency of carbon capture and how it can positively impact the state of climate change.
What Is Carbon Capture?
Carbon capture is used to describe various methods that aim to mitigate the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. In some instances, carbon is captured at its source before it enters the atmosphere. Other methods remove carbon directly from the atmosphere.
Carbon capture is a crucial tool used to fight climate change and global warming. The amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) in our atmosphere has caused our planet to warm since the Industrial Revolution. At the start of the Industrial Revolution, the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere was 280 parts per million (PPM). Currently, we have 415 PPM that is increasing at a rate of 2.5 PPM with each passing year.
With carbon levels rising, carbon capture provides us with another tool to reach the primary goal of the Paris Agreement: to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F). Capturing gas at power plants before it enters the atmosphere will reduce the continuous rise of CO2 levels. Special carbon capture plants that remove CO2 directly from the air provide another option for its sequestration from the atmosphere.
What Are the Primary Types of Carbon Capture?
There are three primary methods for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When it comes to fighting climate change, the important thing is to utilize all available options. Each of the types of carbon capture below plays a different role in achieving the same goal of reducing the amount of greenhouse gas concentrations.
The first one we’ll cover is tree planting and forestry practices. Then, we’ll take a look into carbon capture that occurs at power plants and factories. Finally, we’ll explore the carbon capture technologies that remove it directly from the air.
Tree Planting and Forestry
Tree planting and reforestation can make the Earth a healthier place to live. Not only do good forestry practices promote biodiversity and restore natural habitats, but they also improve air quality, soil nutrition, and water purification. Plus, forests are one of Earth’s natural carbon sinks that remove and store carbon dioxide.
Tree planting is an excellent tool for reducing carbon dioxide that is already in the atmosphere. Trees naturally absorb CO2 and then store it in their leaves, branches, and trunks. One organization, 1t.org, recognizes the importance of tree planting and has set a goal of planting 1 trillion trees by 2030.
Tree planting is a great form of carbon offsetting for individuals. Each year, the average person in the U.S. releases 16.5 tons of carbon dioxide, meaning they would have to plant 725 to 1,000 trees each year to offset this amount of carbon.
Factory Carbon Capture
Carbon capture technology at factories, refineries, and other large-scale industrial facilities catches carbon before it is emitted. There are 21 carbon emission capture locations operating around the world. These carbon capture facilities separate CO2 directly from their emissions and then use the CO2 for something or store it permanently so it cannot enter the atmosphere.
Originally, carbon was captured for reuse by the oil industry. Companies would harvest the CO2 from their emissions and then pump it into the ground of an oil field so they could get greater returns of oil. In the 1980s and 1990s, carbon capture from industrial emissions became a subject of study as a tool for reducing climate change.
The way carbon is captured in these operations is through redirecting emissions caused by industrial processes into a chamber where a solvent absorbs the carbon dioxide. Then, the carbon-rich solvent is heated up to separate the CO2 and the solvent. The solvent can be reused, and the carbon can then be stored or repurposed.
Direct Air Capture
Direct air capture is when carbon is removed directly from the air. Currently, there is such an abundance of CO2 in our atmosphere that simply preventing more from entering is not enough to stop climate change. The best option is to reduce emissions to zero and start removing carbon directly from the air using carbon capture technologies.
There are 15 direct air capture facilities throughout Europe, the United States, and Canada. While carbon removal from the atmosphere will likely have an important role in transitioning to zero emissions, it is currently not the most cost-effective endeavor. There is only 0.04% carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, so removing carbon directly from the air is difficult.
As technology improves and support for direct air capture grows, this solution will help reduce CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, preventing further global warming.
What Happens to Carbon Once It Is Captured?
Capturing carbon dioxide is only the first step in the entire carbon capture process. Once the carbon is removed or prevented from entering the atmosphere, it must be stored or used in a way that does not create harmful emissions.
Carbon Capture and Storage
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) refers to the process in which the carbon is secured, then stored safely so it cannot enter the atmosphere. The techniques used to store commercial-scale amounts of carbon have been around for 45 years.
Once the carbon is captured, it is transported to a carbon storage site, which is usually a geologic storage location. Trucks, railways, ocean vessels, and pipelines are the typical methods in which captured carbon is transported. The carbon is then injected deep under the Earth’s surface into geologic formations like empty oil and natural gas reservoirs or deep saline aquifers, where it can safely remain without entering the atmosphere.
Carbon Capture and Utilization
The other option is carbon capture and utilization (CCU), a process where captured carbon is used for a recycled purpose. Some of these uses result in the carbon eventually reentering the atmosphere, while others are more sustainable and aim to store the carbon for long periods of time.
As mentioned earlier, carbon is used for enhanced oil recovery. While this process still promotes the use of fossil fuels, it does improve the efficiency at which they are removed from the ground, resulting in fewer carbon dioxide emissions during the process of acquiring oil and gas.
Another one of the less sustainable options is to make fuel from CO2. While the carbon would, at the very least, provide energy that would otherwise be wasted, the CO2 would still enter the atmosphere when it is burned for fuel.
Carbon can also be used to create chemicals. These chemicals can be used to make polymers and are even useful in pharmaceutical applications.
One great option for carbon utilization is the desalination of water. With droughts caused by climate change threatening access to clean water, using carbon to desalinate water can help remove carbon from the atmosphere and provide clean drinking water to communities in need.
How Efficient Is Carbon Capture?
Carbon capture sounds like a great option for emissions reductions, but how efficient is the practice? For carbon capture systems that prevent industrial carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere, they typically capture upward of 90% of the carbon emitted from a plant.
Some of the carbon capture projects have surpassed capturing 95% efficiency, and it is expected that with new technology, we could see carbon capture work at a rate of around 99% efficiency. The catch is that the more efficient that technology is, the more expensive it is.
Carbon capture technology can overcome the investment hurdle through the enforcement of carbon finance systems, like a carbon tax that is applied to businesses that emit a certain amount of carbon each year. These systems are designed to create incentives for businesses to operate more sustainably.
As companies have to pay more in taxes, they will likely find it better to invest in new carbon capture technology to avoid future fines. If the company can achieve net-zero emissions or negative emissions, they could be eligible for tax credits.
As more businesses in the industrial sector begin to support these new technologies, we will see the efficiency of carbon capture and mitigation improve dramatically over the coming year.
Can Carbon Capture Reverse Climate Change?
Carbon capture has the potential to reverse climate change, but it is essential to fight climate change with many different tactics. Carbon dioxide is the primary culprit responsible for causing the greenhouse warming effect that is driving climate change. The more carbon that is removed and prevented from the atmosphere, the less the planet will warm and experience shifts in climate.
As carbon capture technology improves, we will see industries reducing the amount of carbon that is in the atmosphere. However, a transition to clean and renewable energy technology is also essential in reducing our overall greenhouse gas emissions.
Direct air capture and good forestry practices can help reduce the amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere once we have stopped emitting carbon altogether. While we wait for direct air capture technology to improve, our best opportunity is to support sustainability projects. One way you can get involved is through participating in carbon offsetting, which reduces your carbon footprint and supports sustainable activities.
Capturing Carbon for a Better Future
With carbon capture technologies continuously improving, we have even more tools to combat the changing climate. Capturing carbon from factories proves to be very efficient, and capturing carbon directly from the air presents a great opportunity to reduce atmospheric carbon levels.
Whether it is stored in a safe way under the Earth or recycled for a different use, capturing carbon seems to present an incredible opportunity for us to prevent global warming and climate change.
Learn how Terrapass can help you participate in the fight against climate change and offset your carbon footprint.
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