Removing greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere is an essential part of the overall effort to achieve zero net carbon emissions and stabilize the climate. Since we have not been able to reduce emissions fast enough to do the job, it is important to find ways to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
There are many ways to do it, but they tend to be rather expensive and, so far, the need to mitigate climate change does not seem to provide sufficient incentive. A new study by researchers at UCLA, the University of Oxford, and five other institutions, analyzed the possibility of creating a large global industry based on capturing carbon dioxide and turning it into commercial products.
The study investigated the potential future scale and cost of 10 different ways to use carbon dioxide, including in fuels and chemicals, plastics, building materials, soil management, and forestry. The study looked at processes using carbon dioxide captured from waste products that are produced by burning fossil fuels as well as by simply capturing it directly from the atmosphere. The study also looked at processes that use carbon dioxide captured biologically by photosynthesis.
The conclusions of the study were that on average each of the ten utilization pathways could use about half a billion tons of carbon dioxide that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere. Thus, theoretically, these various pathways could take more than five billion tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere. Currently, fossil fuel combustion emits about 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide.
The authors of the study stress that there is no silver bullet in the fight against climate change. It will require multiple approaches – including CO2 removal for industrial use – to make real progress
Photo, posted September 18, 2015, courtesy of Tony Webster via Flickr.