Surferbird News-links: Capturing and Storing Carbon Dioxide

By Yinan Chen ( (gallery, image)) [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Yinan Chen ( (gallery, image)) [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Below is a summary of current carbon dioxide capture and storage technologies followed by two videos on the BECCS process. All information is based on an article by Elizabeth Kolbert, published November 20, 2017, in The New Yorker. I provided a link to the article, below.

The New Yorker published a piece last week on capturing and storing carbon dioxide, by Elizabeth Kolbert. Could these technologies prevent global temperatures from rising above 2°C? I have a hunch the debate is just beginning. This post is a summary of the article, which, although daunting in scope, is fascinating.

Most experts agree that carbon removal technology will be critical in order to meet climate goals set by the I.P.C.C. (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)—no more than a 2°C (3.6°F) increase above preindustrial levels. Yet, scientists have already begun researching these technologies while, also, demonstrating how they work.

Carbon Dioxide Removal

The first two methods focus mostly on carbon dioxide removal. Carbon Engineering, a company in British Columbia, has developed a process that pulls CO₂ from the air and converts it to calcium carbonate, using calcium in the process. But the problem with this technology is that it requires a special kind of calcium that's hard to come by, and the process of making the calcium produces a lot of CO₂. 

In addition, a physicist at Arizona State University, Klaus Lackner, is working on a second carbon removal technology that uses beads made of a resin—similar to resins used in water filtration—to remove CO₂ from the air. The dry beads absorb CO₂; when moistened, they release it. 

Carbon Capture and Storage, (C.C.S.)

Carbon capture and storage works differently than the technologies described above. Instead of capturing CO₂ from the air where concentrations are lower, C.C.S. (carbon capture and storage) captures CO₂ at the source of emissions and permanently stores it deep in the ground, essentially putting it back where it came from. This is the process referred to as "clean coal," which doesn't really exist. Rather, when the coal is burned, the resulting CO₂ is captured and piped underground.  But it takes energy to capture the CO₂, an investment that energy companies don't want to pay for when they can release the CO₂ for free (cringe!). 

Bio-energy with Carbon Capture and Storage, (BECCS)

BECCS is currently the most likely candidate for carbon dioxide removal and takes advantage of the carbon cycle by burning plant matter, which has already absorbed CO₂. It then uses carbon capture and storage (C.C.S.) to permanently store the carbon dioxide deep underground. Plants naturally take in CO₂ through photosynthesis and release it when they decay or burn. Burning plant matter before it decays (or burns on its own) and releases CO₂ breaks the carbon cycle while generating energy in the process. But the BECCS process will require a lot of land to produce enough plant matter to make a dent in CO₂ levels. And this is land we'll increasingly need for food as the world's population grows.

closing thoughts 

According to Kolbert's piece, carbon removal technology will be necessary if we're gong to meet climate goals, as noted by several experts in the field. But the caveat is that many researchers think the probability of scaling up in time to prevent catastrophic warming is unrealistic and that it's irresponsible to think otherwise. On the other hand, some scientists express the need to continue researching and developing carbon removal technologies anyway because we don't have the option not to. Given the ongoing debate, it's important to note that atmospheric CO₂ levels reached 410 parts per million in April of 2017. The last time CO₂ concentrations were that high, Earth's oceans were 60 feet higher than they are now.  

Two short videos on BECCS

Below are two short videos, the first of which describes the BECCS process. In the second video, Teresa Anderson with Action Aid International discusses the challenges and possible consequences of relying on BECCS as a solution to climate change. Naturally, I recommend watching both so you can weigh in on each perspective.     Laura

About the BECCS process

Is BECCS feasible?