Last year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a terrifying report that stated we may have as few as 12 years to slash our greenhouse gas emissions to avoid some of the worst impacts of climate change.
The report identifies a need to not only reduce emissions but to also remove carbon dioxide from the air to meet the goal of limiting global warming from our current temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius more.
The removal of carbon dioxide from the air is also known as “negative emissions” or “carbon scrubbing.” Last year, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine delivered a report that highlights four existing methods of carbon dioxide removal that are ready for large-scale use at the cost of only $100 per ton of carbon dioxide or less.
Nonetheless, both this report and a report from the European Academies Science Advisory Council stated that these technologies likely will not be enough to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Still, the continued development of these carbon removal methods must be a critical priority in the fight against climate change.
Here are some of the most frequently mentioned approaches to carbon dioxide removal:
Planting Trees and Better Land Management
Globally, forests absorb around 30% of the world’s carbon emissions. A NASA-led study showed that tropical forests absorb 1.4 billion metric tons out of the global absorption of 2.5 billion tons by forests. Properly managed reforestation and afforestation could greatly increase nature’s ability to help us fight climate change.
There are a number of organizations behind this effort that are doing great conservation, reforestation, advocacy and transformative land management work. You can contribute to this effort by supporting:
- American Forest Foundation
- Eden Reforestation Projects (read about our partnership with them and other sustainability efforts)
- Conservation International
- Land Trust Alliance
- National Forest Foundation
- Rocky Mountain Institute
Bioenergy With Carbon Capture and Sequestration (BECCS)
This process involves using biofuels — any fuel that is derived from biomass — such as plant or algae material or animal waste, and the capture and storage of the CO2 emitted during the bioenergy process. Through this method, it would theoretically be possible to create a carbon negative system while producing heat, electricity and fuels.
By growing plants for biofuel that remove carbon dioxide as they grow, as well as capturing the carbon that is created when turning these plants into biofuel, BECCS could be a carbon negative method of energy and revenue generation.
Direct Air Capture of Carbon Dioxide
Companies have already successfully pulled this off. The Canadian company, Carbon Engineering, captures about one ton of carbon dioxide a day at its plant in British Columbia. The company is also developing its Air To Fuels technology that recycles atmospheric CO2 by turning it into a clean liquid fuel that can replace crude oil as a transportation fuel.
A key highlight of CE’s signature “Direct Air Capture” technology is that it’s designed to achieve large industrial-scaled carbon removal in any country and in a number of different climates. The company hopes to find global partners to build full-scale commercial direct air capture plants that transform CO2 into clean fuels.
In March the company received $68 million in private investment. Bill Gates and Chevron are among CE’s current investors.
Another revolutionary company called Climeworks currently has three direct air capture plants in Iceland, Switzerland and Italy that capture 1,100 tons of carbon dioxide per year. At its Iceland plant, the company is turning CO2 into basalt rock. In Switzerland Climeworks is using CO2 as a fertilizer in a greenhouse, and in Italy the company is converting CO2 into methane fuel for trucks.
Like CE, Climeworks’ technology filters CO2 from atmospheric air and chemically processes it to be stored or used to create the company’s impressive products. The process requires no water and is powered by low grade/waste heat. Its partners include the European Commission, Audi, and Lucerne University.
Climeworks’ most recent product announcement was for the launch of its ALIGAL 2 sparking water carbonator, made in partnership with Carbagas. It “actively reduce[s] the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere by removing more CO2 than is used for the production of sparkling water.” This remarkable product made for everyday life allows you to extract CO2 from the atmosphere with every glass of sparkling water you make.
Innovations like these can allow us to implement carbon removal on both an industrial and personal level large enough to answer the urgency of carbon reduction in a meaningful way.
Technology Isn’t a Cure-All, But It’s a Start
These are just a few of the growing number of ways the world can tackle the urgency of carbon removal. The IPCC estimates that we need to remove 100-1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2100. In 2017 alone humanity produced 37.2 gigatons of CO2. Carbon removal technology can’t solve climate change on its own, but it is an undoubtedly necessary part of the globally coordinated policies and efforts we need.
You can support the effort to meet our carbon reduction goals by donating and volunteering with advocacy organizations like:
Additionally, spreading the word about companies like Carbon Engineering and Climeworks help build momentum around innovative carbon solutions. As a consumer, you have more power than you might think.
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