We need carbon dioxide removal (CDR) strategies to keep temperatures from breaching the limits contained in the Paris Agreement (2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial norms). Even if we were to stop emitting carbon into the atmosphere today we would still need to siphon carbon out of the atmosphere to keep global average temperatures from surpassing the upper threshold temperature limits. Given the scope of the required drawdown, we will need to deploy a full range of CDR strategies that include established technologies as well as innovative approaches. We must simultaneously explore new research directions.
An assessment of CDR technologies (NCS, DACCS, CCS, CCU), and companies leading carbon capture efforts suggests that these approaches are viable, scalable and cost-effective. However, many of these technologies have not been field-tested and none have been deployed at anywhere near the required scale. We need to do a side-by-side comparison of various CDR approaches that incorporate energy and land usage alongside comparative assessments of viability, scalability and cost. We need to examine the factors that contribute to and detract from the deployment of CDR technologies (see table 1).
Governments have a pivotal role to play. This includes providing financial incentives such as carbon pricing and other regulatory frameworks. Government involvement is crucial because scaling these technologies will reduce their cost and facilitate deployment. Governments also have a role to play in disseminating the science that allows the wider public to appreciate the need for these technologies. With government support, businesses and investors will flock to CDR as a multi-trillion-dollar opportunity.
Natural climate solutions (NCS) are an indispensable part of any serious CDR effort. Geological carbon sequestration may be the most cost-effective and enduring approach to storing carbon. There are many NCS approaches that can be characterized as winning strategies. Direct air carbon capture and sequestration (DACCS) is also a critical part of a diversified CDR portfolio. The portability and scalability of DACCS technology put it at the center of our hopes to keep temperatures from surpassing the upper threshold limits. Without DACCS we will almost certainly surpass these limits. DACCS is not a panacea but it is all but inevitable that there will come a time when the world understands that we need to deploy this technology around the globe.
Keeping temperatures within acceptable limits will involve a patchwork of different technologies and approaches. We cannot afford to be distracted by economics that prioritizes profit over negative emission technologies. The deployment of CDR technologies does not replace the need for aggressive GHG mitigation efforts. We need both wide-ranging mitigation and the deployment of multiple different CDR technologies. We need to fit different CDR approaches into differing contexts to maximize judicious use of local environments without compromising such things as essential agriculture.
We need to start developing overarching strategies and frameworks. Such technology portfolios will require situationally relevant publicly available data that includes NCS, DACCS, CCU, and CCS. To rapidly deploy a wide range of CDR technologies we need to develop a better understanding of their potential benefits and their respective environmental demands. Most importantly we will need to assess their interrelated effects, specifically how these technologies can be co-deployed for maximum effect without interfering with each other’s operational optimization.
Carbon capture research has benefited from the fossil fuel industry. While these partnerships have advanced our understanding of technological approaches to reducing source emissions, they should in no way be interpreted as a justification for the continued exploitation and burning of fossil fuels. There is no hope of keeping temperatures within the upper threshold limits without eradicating fossil fuel use.
The scope of the challenge is daunting and the window of opportunity to act is limited. So we must assess these technologies from the perspective of the speed of scalability to ensure that we do not overshoot the upper-temperature limits. We would also benefit from the development of standardized quantitative metrics that could help provide additional comparative clarity. CDR is the next frontier of climate action that could help us to avoid a catastrophe. However, if we are to have a chance of keeping temperatures within acceptable limits we need to act soon. More research will expedite the deployment of CDR technologies and make the deployment maximally efficient. To ensure that the suite of CDR technologies is able to work together without further compromising biodiversity loss is a complex jigsaw puzzle that requires a master plan.
For references go to CDR Resources. See also Glossary of Terminology Related to CDR.
- How 3 Carbon Removal Technologies Work Together to Mitigate Emissions
- Future Research Directions in Carbon Capture and CDR
- Factors Detracting From and Contributing to Carbon Capture
- The Role of the Fossil Fuel Industry in Carbon Capture
- What we Should and Should Not Do with Captured Carbon
- Companies Leading Carbon Capture Technology
- Assessment of the Leading Carbon Capture Companies
- Assessment of Geological Carbon Sequestration
- The Economic Opportunities Associated with Carbon Removal
- Assessment of Carbon Capture Technologies (DACCS, CCU, and CCS)
- The Costs and Scalability of Carbon Capture Technologies
- Natural Climate Solutions for Carbon Sequestration
- Short Brief on the State of Carbon Capture Research
- Why We Need Carbon Capture and Sequestration
- Negative Emission Technologies are our Last Hope
- Examples of Carbon Capture Technology
- Carbon Capture and Storage is Essential Post Paris
- Carbon Capture and Storage (Videos)
- Canada is Banking on Carbon Capture to Offset Tar Sands
- The Farce of Canada’s Carbon Capture
- Podcast: Richard Matthews Discusses Carbon Removal with Earthfeels
- Evaluation Criteria to Assess Carbon Removal Technologies
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