Everything you need to know about carbon capture

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

Currently, there is 47% more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than at the beginning of the Industrial Age. This causes temperatures to rise, the ocean to acidify, and extreme weather to become commonplace and even more extreme.

Carbon capture technology is essential to reversing the effects of global warming.

“Even if we get to … net zero by 2050, even if we get there, we still have to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere,” said Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry on April 22. “And that means we need the innovative technologies to do that.”

Carbon capture vs. carbon removal

As nations work toward capping carbon dioxide emissions and stopping other greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere, there will still be a surplus of carbon dioxide present in the air.

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

There are different methods for keeping carbon dioxide from entering the air and for soaking up carbon dioxide that’s already there.

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

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

Carbon capture technology isolates carbon dioxide as it’s produced and before it’s released into the atmosphere. The captured carbon dioxide is then stored safely, frequently in construction materials or underground geological reserves.

While carbon capture focuses on newly produced CO2, carbon removal technology does just that: 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 operational facilities (PDF, 1.7MB) around the world are successfully capturing carbon dioxide. Half are in the United States.

Carbon dioxide removal is also on the rise as American entrepreneurs blend new technology with old methods to address the climate crisis.

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

“Clearly, innovation is going to be a critical component of what we have to achieve,” said Kerry.