Removing C02 from the Atmosphere — Most Efficient Process Yet Found

With climate change’s dangers looming, it would be sensible for more people to try to lower the cost of direct air capture demonstrated here. Estimating that humans put 50 billion tons of C02 in the atmosphere every year, with the cost of removing one ton of C02 being at maybe $100, it would cost approximately $5 trillion (5-6% of world GDP) a year to offset the new C02 being added yearly. It isn’t clear to me how much value would be able to be generated by the tons of C02 captured, but I am aware that there are good catalysts for recycling C02 into valuable chemicals available.

Even so, it’s troubling that governments around the world don’t join forces to reduce the costs of this direct air capture and contribute money towards using it more. Eventually, my guess is that something similar to this technology is going to have be used much, more in the future. I don’t think humanity is moving fast enough to ditch fossil fuels for clean energy, and the next ten years are going to be especially crucial in what happens with climate change. The problem with C02 removal is going to continue to revolve around the high cost to do it though — if the cost could be further lowered significantly, much of the warming this century could be prevented.

By removing emitted carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turning it into fresh fuels, engineers at a Canadian firm have demonstrated a scalable and cost-effective way to make deep cuts in the carbon footprint of transportation with minimal disruption to existing vehicles. Their work appears June 7 in the journal Joule.

“The carbon dioxide generated via direct air capture can be combined with sequestration for carbon removal, or it can enable the production of carbon-neutral hydrocarbons, which is a way to take low-cost carbon-free power sources like solar or wind and channel them into fuels that can be used to decarbonize the transportation sector,” says lead author David Keith, founder and chief scientist of Carbon Engineering, a Canadian CO2-capture and clean fuels enterprise, and a professor of applied physics and public policy at Harvard University.

Direct air capture technology works almost exactly like it sounds. Giant fans draw ambient air into contact with an aqueous solution that picks out and traps carbon dioxide. Through heating and a handful of familiar chemical reactions, that same carbon dioxide is re-extracted and ready for further use — as a carbon source for making valuable chemicals like fuels, or for storage via a sequestration strategy of choice. It’s not just theory — Carbon Engineering’s facility in British Columbia is already achieving both CO2capture and fuel generation.

The idea of direct air capture is hardly new, but the successful implementation of a scalable and cost-effective working pilot plant is. After conducting a full process analysis and crunching the numbers, Keith and his colleagues claim that realizing direct air capture on an impactful scale will cost roughly $94-$232 per ton of carbon dioxide captured, which is on the low end of estimates that have ranged up to $1,000 per ton in theoretical analyses.

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Centuries of unchecked human carbon emissions also mean that atmospheric carbon dioxide is a virtually unlimited feedstock for transformation into new fuels. “We are not going to run out of air anytime soon,” adds Steve Oldham, CEO of Carbon Engineering. “We can keep collecting carbon dioxide with direct air capture, keep adding hydrogen generation and fuel synthesis, and keep reducing emissions through this AIR TO FUELSTM pathway.”

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“After 100 person-years of practical engineering and cost analysis, we can confidently say that while air capture is not some magical cheap solution, it is a viable and buildable technology for producing carbon-neutral fuels in the immediate future and for removing carbon in the long run,” says Keith.

New Process Could Increase the Value of Captured Carbon Dioxide

In my view, carbon capture will probably be necessary to mitigate the worst effects of climate change in the future. The beneficial incentives for capturing it are therefore welcome developments. Also, this possible development is not the only recent advance in carbon capture — there is also a more definitive recent advance that converts captured carbon dioxide into valuable chemicals.

Carbon capture could help the nation’s coal plants reduce greenhouse gas emissions, yet economic challenges are part of the reason the technology isn’t widely used today. That could change if power plants could turn captured carbon into a useable product.

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory have developed an efficient process for turning captured carbon dioxide into syngas, a mixture of H2 and CO that can be used to make fuels and chemicals. The team has published its results in Green Chemistry, a publication of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Traditional approaches for reusing the carbon from CO2 involve a reduction step that requires high temperatures and pressures. At lower temperatures, the CO2 doesn’t stay dissolved in water long enough to be useful. The process developed at INL addresses this challenge by using specialized liquid materials that make the CO2 more soluble and allow the carbon capture medium to be directly introduced into a cell for electrochemical conversion to syngas.

“For the first time it was demonstrated that syngas can be directly produced from captured CO2 — eliminating the requirement of downstream separations,” the researchers wrote in the Green Chemistry paper.

Global Fossil Fuel Burning to Set Record Highs in 2017

Yet another important warning sign that civilization needs to convert to clean, renewable energy sources, such as those from solar and wind. Pollution is also a leading cause of death anyway, much of it from fossil fuels. And a lot more people should actively understand that what’s profitable to the fossil fuel industry is harmful to the world’s general human populations.

The burning of fossil fuels around the world is set to hit a record high in 2017, climate scientists have warned, following three years of flat growth that raised hopes that a peak in global emissions had been reached.

The expected jump in the carbon emissions that drive global warming is a “giant leap backwards for humankind”, according to some scientists. However, other experts said they were not alarmed, saying fluctuations in emissions are to be expected and that big polluters such as China are acting to cut emissions.

Global emissions need to reach their peak by 2020 and then start falling quickly in order to have a realistic chance of keeping global warming below the 2C danger limit, according to leading scientists. Whether the anticipated increase in CO2 emissions in 2017 is just a blip that is followed by a falling trend, or is the start of a worrying upward trend, remains to be seen.

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The new analysis is based on the available energy use data for 2017 and projections for the latter part of the year. It estimates that 37bn tonnes of CO2 will be emitted from burning fossil fuels, the highest total ever.

The main reason for the rise is an expected 3.5% increase in emissions in China, the world’s biggest polluter, where low rains have reduced low-carbon hydroelectric output and industrial activity has increased. India’s rise in emissions was modest compared to previous years at 2%, while the US and EU are both on track for small falls.

2017 is likely to be the hottest year ever recorded in which there was no El Niño event, a natural global cycle that temporarily nudges up global temperature. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere also saw a record jump in 2016, and other greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide from agriculture and industry are also rising.