The current Conservative Cabinet favours Carbon Capture Technology as the main tool to combat climate change. In doing so, they have pledged to remove 10 million tonnes of Carbon Dioxide by 2030.ᶦ Having said that, it is important to look at how carbon capture technology works, and whether it is a viable solution to climate change where it has been deployed (United States).
Carbon Capture Technology refers mainly to Direct Air Capture, which is when carbon is extracted from the air using a big fan (air contactor). The big fan pulls air through, allowing for carbon to meet a carbon dioxide absorbing solution, which is then processed to create calcium carbonate pellets. The pellets are then heated, creating liquid carbon. This is then stored in Saline formations deep underground. Storing carbon underground is considered to result in carbon negative, though currently this is not a commercially viable project to undertake.ᶦᶦ
The cost of Direct Air Capture is 50 times more than making use of natural methods such as tree planting, sustainable farming etc. With limited US government incentives to make Direct Air Capture practices commercially viable, companies are less inclined to permanently store carbon after it has been captured. Instead, captured carbon is used to create synthetic fuels amongst other things, and for enhanced oil recovery. Using captured carbon to produce synthetic fuels results in carbon neutral as carbon in the air does not increase but is repurposed. However, synthetics fuels created through this manner are not covered by government incentives in the US, therefore this method of producing synthetic fuels in not commercially viable. Accordingly, enhanced oil recovery has become the preferred use of carbon capture.ᶦᶦᶦ
Enhanced oil recovery is when carbon is pumped into an oil well, making the oil less dense, allowing for more oil to be extracted. Oil giants such as ExxonMobil in partnership with Global thermostats make use of this method. While this is considered a carbon neutral practice, the upshot is that more oil is recovered, resulting in the same amount of carbon, if not more, in the atmosphere.
A report produced by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (US) found that to keep below 1.5º C, 100-1000 giga-tonnes of Carbon Dioxide needs to be removed over the 21st Century. The initial aim for carbon capture technology cannot be carbon neutral or to produce more oil, but to permanently store captured carbon (carbon negative).ᶦᵛ
Finally, Direct Air Capture is an energy intensive processᵛ, with most plants being powered by both renewable and non-renewable energy sources. Capturing carbon also produces carbon, with early aims being set to eventually use only renewable sources of energy.ᵛᶦ
Ultimately, it is ‘easier to keep it out of the atmosphere, than trying to retrieve it once it’s there’ (Simon Nicholson).ᵛᶦᶦ The shortcomings of carbon capture technology should reflect this and any attempt to prevent carbon in the air should be adhered to, before relying on this technology as an absolute last resort. The lessons must be learnt from ongoing carbon capture technology development, and the UK government must exhaust all other avenues of fighting climate change before relying on this technology.
ᶦ Conservatives, ‘Our Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution’ (Conservatives, 2020), <https://www.conservatives.com/news/green-industrial-revolution> Accessed 2 September 2021 ᶦᶦ CNBC, ‘Money is pouring into Carbon Capture Tech, But Challenges Remain’ (3 March 2021) < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxVFopLpIQY> Accessed 2 September 2021 ᶦᶦᶦ Ibid ᶦᵛ Ibid ᵛ Simon E, ‘Direct CO2 capture machines could use ‘a quarter of global energy’ in 2100’ (CarbonBrief, 2019), < https://www.carbonbrief.org/direct-co2-capture-machines-could-use-quarter-global-energy-in-2100> Accessed 2 September 2021 ᵛᶦ Ibid ᵛᶦᶦ Freethink, ‘Carbon Capture Technology Explained’ (24 October 2020) < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxjNhLZCae0> Accessed 2 September 2021