Carbon Capture: a controversial solution to the climate crisis?

As the world collectively pushes to meet emission reduction goals by 2030, controversial ‘Carbon Capture’ projects are being backed with huge investment.

When it comes to saving the planet from an impending climate crisis, is there really room for cutting corners? The answer so far is a solid maybe.

We’re now more environmentally conscious than ever before. Everyone from the biggest multiconglomorates to modest family businesses are finally starting to adopt more environmentally friendly and sustainable practices. Whether this concerted effort is coming from a place of genuine social change and accountability or keeping public pressure at bay with greenwashing gimmicks will differ on a case by case basis, but it is a concerted effort, nonetheless.

To date, the main goal has always been mitigation when talking emissions. Tech companies are innovating bold new ways of generating renewable energy, the agriculture industry is shifting toward becoming more regenerative, and people are finally making active consumer decisions based on their own carbon footprints. The general attitude is ‘the less Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere the better,’ as we chip away at our global climate reduction goals slated for 2030.

However, there are a number of savvy tech companies out there that are less concerned with mitigating emissions, and instead are inventing revolutionary ways of diverting and storing them – a process becoming commonly branded as ‘Carbon Capture’.

As you’d expect, projects of this nature are largely frowned upon in the sustainable tech sector, with a number of experts lamenting the concept as a costly distraction from stopping emissions occurring in the first place, and also as a potential copout for companies adverse to adopting greener practices.

Just last month though, the International Energy Agency released a report claiming that Carbon Capture will have to become an imperative part of the mix if we’re to minimise the impact of emissions from factories, power plants, transportation, and other sources. It even went as far as declaring 2030’s emission goal ‘virtually impossible’ to reach with renewable energies alone, such as solar and wind.

In its infancy, with as few as 20 projects of its kind in commercial use worldwide, Carbon Capture has already secured billions of dollars in investment from governments and eager businesses, which will only fuel the pessimism of those concerned about false rhetoric propagated by the fossil fuel industry.

In an eye-catching recent deal, a consortium of giants including Microsoft and Amazon invested in a Canadian firm called CarbonCure which aims to slash emissions created from concrete production – a process which accounts for more CO2 dump on a yearly basis than every nation bar China and the US.

Using machines that look a little like giant air conditioners, CO2 emissions created by regular concrete production are sucked into the unit directly from the air where they are later injected into concrete to create reinforced limestone. Amazon plans to use this material to construct all its new building developments going forward, including its vast new headquarters in Virginia. In a recent statement, Amazon boasted that the process could reduce global concrete emissions by 500 million metric tons by the end of the decade.

Microsoft is onboard as a keen investor but has large-scale Carbon Capture endeavours of its own too.

Dubbed ‘Moonshot,’ the tech giant’s climate plan will reportedly involve collecting CO2 from the air, and also from biomass energy from underground, before injecting the stored emissions into rock formations.

While this all sounds great in theory, Klaus Lackner, a professor of Sustainable Engineering at Arizona State University claims that retrofitting power plants with Carbon Capture units is largely pointless in the grand scheme of things. With renewable alternatives waiting in the wings to replace fossil fuels, he instead believes that the technology would be put to better use siphoning, and storing stubborn pollution from the vehicle, shipping, and aviation industries.

On that front, I’d have to say I wholeheartedly agree. What use is there promoting the continued production of fossil fuels if we don’t need to? If this kind of technology does go into widespread use across the globe, we’re merely offsetting our own emissions instead of addressing the problem at  the source. The technology is definitely solid and utilising it to rid the atmosphere of existing emissions is a far more exciting prospect.

Unfortunately, that possibility isn’t one being proposed by those with the power to enact widespread change. Assertions that this is a last-ditch attempt to save a dying fossil fuel industry may not be too wide of the mark after all.

Only time will tell. In the meantime, nobody is giving up on renewables.

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