Opinion: Fossil Fuel Industry’s Carbon Capture Practices Turning Unaware Businesses Into Emitters

Opinion: Fossil Fuel Industry’s Carbon Capture Practices Turning Unaware Businesses Into Emitters - Carbon Herald
Credit: Skytree

By Rob van Straten, CEO of Skytree

The large emitters within the fossil fuel industry continue to increase investment in carbon capture technology to meet net zero emission requirements by 2050, or so they claim.

Exxon, Chevron, Baker Hughes, and Occidental Petroleum are among those fossil fuel players expected to spend up to $241 billion by 2030 to fund a wide range of CDR (carbon dioxide removal) and CCU (carbon capture and utilization) projects. Many are using government subsidies to fund and build new carbon capture facilities. 

On the surface, the industry’s enthusiasm for using carbon capture to prevent CO2 from entering the atmosphere may seem like a positive development for the climate. However, as global environmental bodies, such as the International Energy Agency, and noted dignitaries, like Al Gore, have loudly noted, it’s little more than a charade. 

Rather than storing captured CO2 in underground geological formations and abandoned wells, oil companies are using carbon capture for enhanced oil recovery, where CO2 is injected to extract greater quantities of oil. Additionally, large emitting companies are selling captured CO2, via third parties, to companies for use in their daily operations, using processes that further amplify emissions. 

While CO2 is often thought of as the climate’s mortal enemy, it is actually an important commercial resource for many companies. The beverage, food, and healthcare industries are among many that depend on access to a steady supply of CO2. Vertical farms and greenhouse growers also use large volumes of CO2 to maximize growth and yield in their controlled environment agriculture. More and more, CO2 is needed to produce the food, materials, and products we use and rely on every day.  

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In most cases today, these companies acquire CO2 from the fossil fuel industry, which uses point source capture processes to grab CO2 directly at the site of fertilizer plants, oil refineries, and onboard ships. It is then cleaned, purified, liquified, and put in tanks, which are delivered by trucks. 

Sourcing CO2 generated via point source capture processes used by the fossil fuel industry is turning these companies into CO2 emitters, whether they know it or not. 

While point source capture may seem like a desirable alternative to allowing CO2 to enter the atmosphere, it actually amplifies emissions and creates increased volumes of postponed emissions. As a matter of fact, the capture and delivery of a ton of CO2 generated via point source capture can produce up to 50% more emissions than if that same CO2 was simply released into the air, according to Skytree calculations based on scientific research. Fossil-fuel-sourced CO2 also frequently comes with unpredictable pricing fluctuations, supply chain challenges, and delivery delays. 

Companies seeking to enhance ESG efforts and operate in an eco-conscious and environmentally responsible way may unknowingly harm the environment by obtaining their CO2 from the fossil fuel industry. Commercial enterprises should therefore stop patronizing CO2 service providers and pursue alternative sourcing options, such as Direct Air Capture, Direct Ocean Capture, or Biogenic CO2. 

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Perhaps, one day, increased government incentives and new levels of accountability will compel large emitters to sequester captured CO2 in the ground forever, instead of redeploying it in ways that increase emissions. Until then, the onus will fall on businesses to eschew the fossil fuel industry and commit to procuring CO2 from cleaner and more sustainable sources.  

Rob van Straten is CEO of Skytree, a pioneering climate tech company dedicated to combating climate change through innovative CO2 capture and reutilization solutions.

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