As the world shifts toward clean energy in its automobiles and its energy generation tactics, experts say there’s still a lot of work to do to ensure global temperatures don’t keep rising. One costly but effective solution is carbon removal technology, which many companies and federal initiatives are just starting to pour money into.
Above: a smokestack producing CO₂ emissions (Photo: Chris LeBoutillier / Unsplash)
Tesla Head Elon Musk and Google parent company Alphabet are just two entities taking part in a $2 billion total private equity investment into carbon removal startups, according to Bloomberg. Additionally, President Joe Biden’s administration has shared plans to dedicate $3.5 billion to help set up four separate carbon removal hubs in the U.S. for developing and testing the technology.
The news comes after an April report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that the need for carbon removal is “unavoidable,” if the world hopes to reach global temperature targets necessary to prevent climate catastrophe. The panel hopes to see carbon removal technology use increase a thousandfold within the decade — despite the difficulty in doing so financially, politically and affordably.
Companies and governments have struggled to get on board with climate change action substantially. However, modern scientists posit that reaching net-zero greenhouse gases still wouldn’t be enough to prevent catastrophe.
Not only does the world need to decarbonize as quickly as possible, explains energy systems engineer Niall Mac Dowell, but the planet will also need to reach negative emissions to make an impact.
“We need to get to zero emissions globally and then go negative by a significant amount,” said Mac Dowell. “To fully compensate for the damage to the planet, you need to permanently remove the CO₂ from the atmosphere.”
CO₂ makes up just 0.04 percent of the air, but 10 percent of exhaust gases, and carbon removal costs around 15 times the cost of carbon capture and storage.
Above: Exxon Mobil estimates there will be a $4 trillion market for capturing carbon dioxide and storing it underground by 2050 (YouTube: Reuters)
Still, carbon removal has just begun to see enough bipartisan support and necessary financial investments, like those from Musk and Alphabet, to begin making things happen. Although carbon removal is more difficult than carbon capture and storage, or trapping gases at the tops of smokestacks and pumping them back into the Earth, the task is set to have a large, much-needed impact that hasn’t happened with carbon capture and storage technologies.
Climate group Carbon 180, a climate protection group based in Oakland, California, emphasizes that companies and governments are starting to turn toward carbon removal technology en masse.
“This is a watershed moment,” says Climate 180’s Director Erin Burns. “We are seeing massive amounts of private-sector and federal investment, with bipartisan support.”
Potential solutions that could come from carbon removal startups include strategies like vacuuming CO₂ out of the sky, crushing minerals to trap carbon or planting major seaweed forests across the ocean floor.
While a shift from gas to electric vehicles to reduce emissions is an important start in addressing climate change, carbon removal will play an arguably more important role in the decades to come — so it seems safe to say we can expect more of these kinds of investments in the next several years.