Carbon Capture – A Primer

There are two general approaches to keep warming to below a certain level - reducing emissions and removing previous emissions from the sky. We need to do both.

We’ve already mentioned Stripe’s Negative Emissions Commitment as an exemplary initiative from one of the world’s leading tech companies.

Ryan Orbuch works on the climate team at Stripe and he recently published his personal research into carbon removal on his personal website. The resource is the perfect plain-English primer to help you understand carbon capture without a scientific degree.

Some highlights…

Plant-based, mineral-based, and chemical options.

Plant based solutions leverage a plant’s capacity to capture carbon via photosynthesis and the energy of the sun. Solutions in this category include (re)forestation, soil carbon sequestration, algae/kelp farming, and bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (often referred to as BECCS, this is basically a biomass power plant that burns wood and then is fitted with a carbon capture device to handle the smoke aka “flue gas”).

Mineral-based solutions include speeding the weathering of naturally occurring rocks, e.g. Olivine.

Chemical solutions include Direct Air Capture (typically coupled with geologic storage, the capture aspect is often referred to as DAC), where a big machine sucks CO2 out of the air; providing gaseous concentrated CO2 that can then be injected underground for permanent storage.

10-gigaton-scale negative emissions are necessary in essentially every emissions reduction scenario. We have no choice but to fund, research, and deploy them if we’re serious about keeping warming to 2 degrees; or close to it. We are not even close to on track.

Negative emissions have been dramatically underfunded in proportion to their importance. This needs to be fixed if we’re going to have a shot at reducing the cost enough to make 10-gigaton-scale deployment possible by midcentury. It will take likely take years or decades for basic research and pilot projects to scale and get cheap enough; so we need to start right now.

It’s very unlikely any one category of technology, or any one natural approach, will scale enough. We should think of a portfolio across all the approaches outlined here, as well as more I didn’t discuss or have yet to be discovered.

We face the defining problem of our generation; of the entire human project thus far. Climate spans physics, chemistry, ecology, geology, policy, technology, land use, human rights, and more. It’s time we take this seriously as a gigantic opportunity for human progress, and rally to solve it!

Image – Climeworks

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