Carbon capture technologies enable pollutant sites to capture some of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions generated through the energy production process; captured emissions can then either be reused or stored. Whilst the main focus of carbon capture has been reducing emissions, further technological developments have enabled direct air capture (DAC), which is a process that removes CO2 directly from the atmosphere.
Experts believe that DAC is vital for achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, as it will enable the removal of historic CO2 from the atmosphere. Looking forward, DAC will also assist the management of CO2 emissions that are difficult to avoid, such as long-distance transport and heavy industry. The captured CO2 can also be reused as a raw material for manufacturing products that require carbon.
Scientists recently published a paper regarding research into a new efficient method of DAC and sequestration of CO2. Rather than storing captured CO2 underground or in former deep sea oil wells, scientists suggest that by mixing the CO2 with certain chemicals, it can be transformed into baking soda and stored safely in seawater with no adverse environmental impact.
Current methods of carbon capture
Several countries have developed methods to remove CO2 directly from the atmosphere. Climeworks, a company based in Switzerland, established the world’s largest DAC plant and have recently begun providing a certified carbon removal service to large corporate clients. Climeworks’ carbon capture method involves machinery that filters air removed from the atmosphere and traps the CO2 molecules. Captured CO2 is then injected into the ground where it reacts with basalt rock and transforms into stone.
One of the downsides to current methods of DAC is the cost associated with the process. CO2 is relatively diluted in the atmosphere and a large amount of energy is required for machines to absorb and discharge the CO2. Scientists involved in creating the new approach, using chemicals and resins to transform the captured CO2, believe that their method will be more efficient and less costly.
What does this mean for climate change?
The paper’s authors say that this new method of carbon capture could accelerate the deployment of carbon removal technology, as it uses a hybrid of current capture methods, creating a system that is three times more efficient.
Dr SenGupta, a co-author of the research paper, believes that this new DAC method will be critical to limiting the rise in global temperatures and could also be used to empower developing countries. However, experts have advised that the carbon capture industry must be expanded significantly if it is to play an effective role in reversing climate change.
Carbon capture technology is receiving financial backing from the UK government, as it is seen as essential for the UK’s plans to transition to Net Zero. However, the government is looking to insurers for support in covering the risks relating to carbon capture and storage. Potential risks include property damage or malfunction of infrastructure at the storage complex, which could lead to CO2 leakages and suspension of business operations. It will be revealing to see how insurers design policies that cover the risks involved and how the insurance product will be adapted across different jurisdictions.
But with the temperature thresholds of the Paris climate agreement under threat from rising emissions, many others feel that the rapid deployment of direct air capture in addition to massive cuts in carbon is the best hope of avoiding dangerous climate change.