Carbon sequestration is the last piece of the climate puzzle

Last year, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 100, committing California to receiving energy from only renewable sources by 2045, effectively pushing for carbon neutrality. While the bill was a step in the right direction, it does not go far enough. Current projections of atmospheric carbon dioxide see concentration sailing above 410 ppm, correlating to a rise in global temperatures by more than six degrees. The fires across California and strings of Category 5 hurricanes are tell-tale signs that the climate crisis is here, and carbon neutrality will no longer suffice in preventing excessive damage due to climate change. Reducing carbon emissions is no longer a viable option; carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) must now be the main goal if the world has any hope of preventing a climate catastrophe.

In recent years, the main solution to climate change has mostly revolved around countries going carbon neutral, with the EU and some American cities and counties making policies for carbon neutrality. CCS is the process of removing carbon dioxide from the air itself, with the intent to go further than just carbon neutrality. The most familiar mode of sequestration is photosynthesis, in which plants concentrate carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, but this problem goes beyond simply planting trees and hoping for the best. As of now, there are two experimental CCS procedures that show promise: enhanced oil recovery and direct air capture.

Enhanced oil recovery is the paradoxical process of concentrating airborne carbon dioxide to force it into an underground oil well, where it effectively replaces the oil. The process recovers around 60% of oil and replaces it with carbon dioxide. Though it is somewhat reliable and functions as a long-term storage of carbon dioxide, it is paradoxical in the sense that it seems to promote CCS in order to receive more oil that will subsequently produce carbon dioxide; by numbers alone, it is carbon neutrality with extra steps. Even more tellingly, the carbon dioxide being injected is not taken from anthropogenic sources. Most is dug from naturally occurring stores of carbon dioxide. It is possible that this technology may become a decent method for CCS, but that would require the removal of oil company influence and using carbon dioxide directly sequestered from the air. 

That is where direct air capture comes in. Direct air capture utilizes large fans and a chemical filter to sequester carbon dioxide directly from the air for conventional use, making direct air capture the most promising technology for CCS. In fact, Carbon Engineering is a company based around direct air capture, using cheap sequestered carbon dioxide to produce low carbon synthetic fuels with an extremely low emission rate. That is not to say direct air capture technology is the deus ex machina the world needs; it is very effective, but it is not yet profitable for this market to proliferate. 

But it should, especially considering atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are at the point at which planting trees is no longer an easy solution. If a climate crisis is to be averted, carbon capture and sequestration technology needs more attention. The technology exists, and the market should not be a factor when considering the state of the planet. Yes, the price tag on this technology is somewhat high, but going carbon negative is the only viable option to prevent a climate crisis.

 

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