Everything you need to know about CO2 capture

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Carbon dioxide is a natural part of the planet’s environment, but too much of it can wreak havoc on the climate.

There is currently 47% more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than at the beginning of the industrial age. As a result, temperatures are rising, the ocean is acidifying, and extreme weather conditions are becoming commonplace and more extreme.

CO2 capture technology is essential to reverse the effects of global warming.

“Even if we reach . . . net zero by 2050, we still need to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere,” the President’s special envoy for climate, John Kerry, said April 22. “And that means we need innovative technologies to do that.”

Carbon capture vs. carbon removal

As nations work to limit carbon emissions and prevent other greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere, there will still be an excess of carbon dioxide in the air.

So what can be done to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere?

There are several methods to prevent carbon dioxide from entering the air and to absorb carbon dioxide that is already there.

When industrial buildings burn dirty energy to produce fuel, their chimneys emit carbon dioxide. This accounts for 16% of the carbon dioxide produced annually in the United States.

Carbon Observatory data integrated into an atmospheric model show carbon dioxide levels over Earth. (NASA)

Carbon capture technology isolates carbon dioxide as it is formed and before it is released into the atmosphere. The captured carbon dioxide is then safely stored, often in building materials or underground geological reserves.

While carbon capture focuses on newly produced CO2, carbon removal technology does just that: it removes already existing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Fast growing technologies

Carbon capture is fast becoming a viable tool to combat the climate crisis.

As of 2020, 24 plants (PDF, 1.7 MB) around the world are successfully capturing carbon dioxide. Half is in the United States.

Carbon removal is also increasing as American entrepreneurs combine new technologies with old methods to address the climate crisis.

University of Miami students won the Musk Foundation’s XPRIZE for project proposals to sequester one billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. Their idea: soluble tablets that absorb carbon dioxide in the ocean.

“Innovation is clearly going to be a critical component of what we need to achieve,” said Kerry.

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