The focus of the United Nations climate conference in Dubai is the fate of fossil fuels. There are calls from various activists, experts, and countries to reach an agreement to gradually eliminate oil, gas, and coal which contribute to global warming. On the opposing side, energy corporations and oil-producing nations are determined to continue extracting these resources for the foreseeable future.
Behind these conversations lies the use of carbon capture and carbon removal, methods that many, if not all, companies are relying on to fulfill their commitment to achieving net-zero emissions. Critics are concerned that this technology is being exaggerated in order for the industry to continue operating as usual.
“The energy sector must make a true effort to assist in meeting global energy demands and addressing climate objectives – this requires abandoning the misconception that excessive carbon capture is the sole solution,” stated Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, prior to the commencement of discussions.
What is the definition of carbon capture?
Many manufacturing facilities, such as power plants and ethanol plants, generate carbon dioxide. In order to prevent these emissions from contributing to global warming, companies can install equipment to separate the gas from other substances in the smokestack and transport it to underground storage locations. Despite efforts to reduce emissions, some industries, like cement manufacturers that utilize a chemical process releasing CO2, will continue to produce carbon.
According to Karl Hausker, a specialist in achieving net-zero emissions at the World Resources Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on climate issues, we refer to this as a mitigation technology. It is a method to prevent the rise in CO2 levels in the atmosphere. The organization advocates for significant reductions in fossil fuel use and limited use of carbon capture technology.
The carbon that has been captured is then converted into a concentrated state, making it possible to transport via vehicle or pipeline to an underground location for storage over a prolonged period of time.
Another aspect to consider is carbon removal, which involves removing carbon that is already present in the atmosphere instead of just capturing it from one concentrated source. This process is already occurring through reforestation efforts, but there is also a push to utilize technology to directly extract carbon dioxide from the air using chemicals.
Carbon removal is deemed necessary by some individuals in order to facilitate the global shift towards clean energy, which is expected to occur over a lengthy period of time. Even though certain nations have made significant progress in adopting electric vehicles, traditional gas-powered cars will continue to be in use for the foreseeable future. Additionally, there are certain sectors such as shipping and aviation that pose difficulties in achieving complete decarbonization.
According to Jennifer Pett-Ridge, who oversees the carbon initiative at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the U.S. needs to not only decrease emissions, but also actively remove existing pollutants from the atmosphere. The U.S. is currently the second-largest producer of greenhouse gases globally.
How are you doing?
Numerous professionals assert that the technology for capturing and storing carbon is effective, however, it is costly and is still in its preliminary stages of implementation.
The International Energy Agency reports that there are approximately 40 significant carbon capture initiatives currently in use globally, capturing an estimated 45 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. However, this only accounts for a small portion, roughly 0.1%, of the total 36.8 billion metric tons of carbon emissions recorded by the Global Carbon Project.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that the progress of carbon capture has not lived up to expectations. In their analysis of achieving net zero emissions, the IEA emphasizes reducing emissions by significantly decreasing the use of fossil fuels. While carbon capture plays a minor role in this solution, accounting for less than 10%, its growth is still lagging behind schedule.
The rate of new initiatives is increasing, however they are met with major challenges. In the US, there is resistance to CO2 pipelines that transport carbon to storage facilities. Safety is a major concern, as evidenced by a CO2 pipeline rupture in Mississippi in 2020 that released carbon dioxide and caused breathing difficulties for nearby residents, resulting in numerous hospitalizations. The government is currently taking steps to enhance safety regulations.
Businesses may encounter challenges in obtaining permits. An instance of this was seen in South Dakota when authorities denied a permit for the construction of a 1,300-mile system of pipelines to transport CO2 in the Midwest, intended for storage in Illinois.
The capability to extract carbon directly from the atmosphere is also available, but its widespread implementation is even farther in the future and significantly expensive.
Who is backing carbon capture?
The American Petroleum Institute predicts that oil and gas will continue to be a crucial source of energy for many years. This highlights the importance of rapidly advancing carbon capture technology in order to decrease carbon emissions and promote cleaner energy usage across various industries. Furthermore, an examination of the plans of most oil companies to achieve net-zero emissions reveals that many of them are incorporating carbon capture methods.
The Biden government is looking to increase funding for carbon capture and removal, following the lead of America’s significantly higher investment compared to other countries. However, this industry relies on subsidies to attract private investments. The Inflation Reduction Act has made tax incentives more appealing, with investors now eligible for a $180 per ton credit for capturing and storing carbon underground. Additionally, the Department of Energy has allocated billions of dollars to support new initiatives in this field.
Jessie Stolark, the executive director of the Carbon Capture Coalition, a group that advocates for the industry, mentioned that our current discussion involves expanding the use of a tried and tested technology to various sectors with higher deployment costs.
There has been an increase in investment recently. The Environmental Protection Agency is currently reviewing numerous requests for wells that can contain carbon. Additionally, in states like Louisiana and North Dakota, community leaders are actively competing to bring in projects and financial support.
Despite its liberal leaning, California has a bold climate strategy that involves both carbon capture and direct removal of carbon from the atmosphere. Officials assert that this is the only path to achieving zero emissions.
Who opposes it?
Certain environmental advocates claim that fossil fuel corporations are delaying the implementation of carbon capture as a diversion from the urgent task of phasing out oil, gas, and coal.
Shaye Wolf, director of climate science at the Center for Biological Diversity, stated that the fossil fuel industry has shown itself to be hazardous and deceitful.
There are additional issues present. Certain initiatives have not achieved their goals for removing carbon. According to a report from the U.S. government accountability office in 2021, out of eight demonstration projects designed to capture and store carbon from coal-fired power plants, only one had begun operations at the time of publication, despite receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in funding.
Critics also argue that carbon capture may simply delay the closure of a polluting plant, which could negatively impact disadvantaged communities, particularly those who have been exposed to high levels of pollution for a long time due to their proximity to these facilities.
In addition, they mention that a large amount of the carbon captured in the United States is typically utilized in a method known as enhanced oil recovery, where it is injected into the ground to extract more oil.
According to Hausker, it is crucial for governments to implement policies that reduce the use of fossil fuels. This can then be supplemented by practices such as carbon capture and carbon removal.
He stated that we will not be pleading with Exxon to stop developing fossil fuels.
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