The case for carbon capture

While scientists and institutions continue to pour millions of dollars into averting future disasters climate change might cause, many also are looking to reverse the damage already done. Carbon capture, a method of capturing and storing harmful emissions that would otherwise be released by fossil fuels, is perhaps the most promising emissions-reducing technology available to date. However, its hefty price tag means there is still a long way to go before carbon capture can be employed world-wide.

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Will carbon capture ever be cost-effective?

Carbon capture and storage, or CCS, has been dubbed the new golden child of the renewables industry. According to the Carbon Capture & Storage Association (CCSA), early implementation of carbon capture would cost anywhere between $69-$103 per metric ton. These projections, however, were found to be much too ambitious; actual carbon capture projects cost roughly $600 per metric ton of captured carbon dioxide.

Fortunately, as with most renewable technologies in use today, the average cost of CCS is predicted to drop significantly in the coming decades. If carbon capture follows the same cost trajectory as, for example, lithium-ion batteries, its price could fall to less than $20 per metric ton by the 2040s.

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Government support and progressive climate policies are going to be crucial for the development of affordable CCS. The U.S. Department of Energy recently pledged $30 million in funding for research into low-cost carbon capture. However, government backing through environmental policies is still necessary for lasting change.

Current carbon capture projects

This past July, researchers at Harvard University created a new, more affordable carbon capture method, which costs just $94 per ton. Using existing technologies, researchers were able to pull carbon dioxide from the air and convert it to liquid fuels – generating carbon-neutral hydrocarbon power.

Climeworks, a carbon capture firm, has opened three CCS plants across Switzerland, Iceland and Italy, which capture a combined 1,100 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, which is then converted to methane and used to power vehicles. Currently, the firm’s technology costs $600 to $800 per metric ton.

Carbon capture and climate change

Recent studies estimate that nearly 40 billion metric tons of carbon emissions are released into the atmosphere every year. These carbon emissions cause a slew of problems, including air pollution and global warming-related disasters. While the pursuit of renewable energy sources can help curb atmospheric emissions, reducing emissions from fossil fuels is a key component of reversing climate change.

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Gabriella is a North Carolina-based writer covering topics related to the energy industry and the environment. A Sunshine State native, Gabriella graduated from the University of Florida in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in English.