Greenhouse gases – particularly carbon dioxide – remain in our environment for many years, contributing to the warming of the planet. Now some truly innovative methods are emerging for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere contribute to global warming, and the longer they are in the atmosphere, the more damage they do. Carbon dioxide (CO2), one of the major greenhouse gases, remains in the atmosphere for a very long time – in fact, the US EPA states that CO2 emissions ‘cause increases in atmospheric concentrations of CO2 that will last thousands of years’.
Over recent years, storing CO2 to keep it out of the environment has gained momentum as a way to tackle climate change. The technology is known as carbon capture and storage or CCS.
Some CCS methods can capture up to 90% of the CO2 produced from power generation and industrial processes, effectively preventing the gas from being released into the atmosphere. The captured CO2 is then stored or used in various ways, and that is where innovations have emerged.
Several projects exist that focus on storage of CO2 in geological formations and carbonite minerals, for example the CarbFix project in Iceland. Recently, however, the potential of marine algae – all the species we commonly think of as seaweed - to capture and store carbon has been explored with great success. Dr Pia Winberg, of Venus Shell Systems, has pioneered a project in the Shoalhaven region of NSW that produces seaweed that captures carbon produced by an ethanol plant located next to her aquaculture facility. The seaweed is then used in biomaterials, cosmetics, nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals.
Dr Winberg describes the success of the project: “We have demonstrated that we’re capturing CO2 off the ethanol plant really efficiently and we are also using the nutrients from the waste wheat behind that ethanol production as well. So, we’re capturing and integrating and closing the whole system…”
Another innovative company, Switzerland’s Climeworks, is capturing CO2 directly from the air and turning it into a resource. Their system pulls air in, runs it through a reusable filter that heats up and releases pure CO2 gas, which is then sold to industry. The plant will remove 900 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere each year. Their first client, an industrial greenhouse, will use the pure gas to make plants grow faster. The company notes that this serves more to recycle CO2 than capture and store, as the CO2 will ultimately end up back in the atmosphere, but it does demonstrate the effectiveness of the technology.
A future step may be storage, but, more immediately, Climeworks are planning to use the CO2 to make a synthetic carbon neutral fuel. According to Chief Operating Officer, Dominique Kronenberg, “We have a fundamental belief that things can’t go on in the way they’ve been going on- more and more oil pumped out of the ground”. The company intends to scale up its operations over the next decade, with a long-term goal of capturing 1% of global annual CO2 emissions by 2025.
These innovations do not mean we can be complacent about fossil fuel use - stopping that is still of utmost importance – but they can be an additional strategy. Climeworks co-founder Christoph Gebald has stated that to solve climate change, “both getting rid of fossil fuels and directly capturing CO2 from the air are necessary”.
- Watch this video for an introduction to CCS: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2008/sep/05/carboncapturestorage.carbonemissions1
- Learn more about the potential of seaweeds in addressing climate change: https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/seaweed-climate-change
- Read more about Venus Shell System’s CCS facility in the Shoalhaven https://www.venusshellsystems.com.au/
- Calculate your own carbon footprint: https://cncf.com.au/carbon-calculator/
- Explore options to reduce use of fossil fuels in power generation: https://www.choice.com.au/home-improvement/energy-saving/reducing-your-carbon-footprint/articles/green-electricity-review
- Fast Company https://www.fastcompany.com/3052554/the-worlds-first-commercial-carbon-capture-plant-will-turn-pollution-into-cash
- Venus Shell Systems https://www.venusshellsystems.com.au/
- Business Insider http://www.businessinsider.com/carbon-capture-co2-plant-2017-6?IR=T
- Australian Broadcasting Corporation http://iview.abc.net.au/programs/landline/RA1701Q017S00#
- United States Environmental Protection Agency https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/understanding-global-warming-potentials
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Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.