Carbon capture and utilization is expected to play a greater role in minimizing climate change as technology and materials continue to develop.
So far, slashing greenhouse emissions has been the top priority and the most effective at improving the health of the planet. However, emerging carbon capture and utilization technologies are increasingly proving that they can help lower atmospheric temperatures.
Currently, technologies focus on extracting carbon dioxide before it is released into the atmosphere to then be stored underground permanently or filtered and added to materials such as concrete.
Capturing carbon dioxide and using it to make materials such as concrete, fuels and plastics could be highly lucrative. Researchers from the University of Michigan estimate that it is likely these materials could generate revenues of $800 billion a year by 2030.
Some materials have greater climate benefits than others. To find the most effective use of captured carbon, researchers conducted a study titled “Assessing the Relative Climate Impact of Carbon Utilization for Concrete, Chemical, and Mineral Production.”
The potential of carbon capture materials
The study analyzed 20 potential uses of captured carbon dioxide across three categories—concrete, chemicals and minerals—and ranked them by climate benefit.
The University of Michigan researchers found that of these 20 uses, only four had more than a 50% chance of creating a net climate benefit which occurs when “the emissions avoided by using carbon capture technology outweigh the emissions generated while capturing the carbon dioxide and making the final product.”
These included two methods that use carbon dioxide to mix concrete, one that produces formic acid through the hydrogenation of carbon dioxide, and one method to make carbon monoxide for industrial uses.
Lead author of the study Dwarak Ravikuma stated “Decisions to globally scale carbon capture and utilization operations will require guidance on identifying products that maximize the climate benefits of using captured carbon dioxide.”
Results from the study will help prioritize R&D strategies with the greatest climate benefit and will help avoid investments in pathways that offer little hope for climate improvement.
Another way we can remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere is through a process called carbon capture and sequestration. This technology stores carbon dioxide deep below the Earth’s surface.
Relevant: What Is Carbon Capture Technology?
One example of this technology is Climework’s Orca plant in Iceland, the largest direct air capture and storage plant in the world. This plant has the capacity to remove 4,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually, an amount roughly equal to the energy usage of 482 homes in the U.S. each year.
Scientists, researchers and engineers are working on ways to make carbon capturing technologies better. Over the past decade, numerous innovations have enabled us to save energy and reduce costs up to 70% for new carbon capture processes. Yet experts remain steadfast that keeping fossil fuels in the ground still remains the best approach for addressing climate change.