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Climate Change Solutions: CO2 Capture

By Deborah Resnick

CO2-captureIdeas on how to slow climate change are abundant and wildly varied. They range from giant solar sails to seeding the atmosphere with sulphur to reflect sunlight away from the Earth. They are radical solutions to a radical problem. Estimates on the monetary cost of climate change for the US alone could be in excess of $1.9 trillion each year by 2100 (Ackerman & Stanton, 2008). Included in this estimate are damages caused by extreme weather, real estate and job losses, health costs, as well as the cost of modifying our infrastructure to meet the new conditions we will face if climate change continues unchecked.

Carbon capture, one of the less radical solutions proposed, is being tested in several projects around the globe. Carbon dioxide capture is the process by which CO2, a byproduct of burning fossil fuels, is diverted before it can enter the atmosphere and is processed for storage. The pressurized, liquefied CO2 is placed in geological structures such as the Mt. Simon Sandstone saline reservoir in Illinois (Berwyn, 2011). Another potential storage site is the ocean between Australia and Antarctica (Fogarty, 2008).

There are several projects underway in the US and internationally to explore and benchmark CO2 capture methods. The project in Illinois is at an Archer Daniels Midland Company ethanol plant in Summit County. An estimated 11 to 151 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide may eventually be stored in the saline reservoir. The first million metric tons from the $96 billion project will be injected over the next three years.

Elsewhere, the European Commission is sponsoring multiple carbon capture system (CCS) projects with the goal of making CCS a workable option by the year 2020 (European Commission, 2011). There are projects underway in the United Kingdom, Belgium, Poland, France and Italy. Unfortunately, the project in Germany was recently ended due to environmental, financial and political obstacles.

Global carbon dioxide emissions have increased in excess of 29% since 1990 (Science Daily, 2009). Developing countries are releasing increasing amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, and the large economies of the world are reluctant to commit to any significant percentage reduction in emissions. The move toward alternative energy is agonizingly slow and very expensive. It comes as no surprise that major corporations are interested in financing and implementing carbon capture projects, as the cost of catching the CO2 after it has been created is considerably less than refitting manufacturing plants with alternative means of power.

As equatorial nations are slowly overtaken by the oceans surrounding them, and glaciers continue to fragment in Antarctica, the need for action has become imperative. No one really knows what the tipping point or points may be. Alan Hastings, theoretical ecologist at the University of California in Davis, warns that while scientists are looking for the indications, there may be no way to foresee the inevitable. Carbon capture systems, while not perfect, are a viable option for a world not yet ready to give up oil.

References

Ackerman, F., & Stanton, E. A. (2008). The Cost of Climate Change: What We’ll Pay if Global Warming Continues Unchecked. New York, NY: National Resources Defense Council.

Berwyn, B. (2011, November 28). Climate: Large scal carbon-capture tried in Illinois. Retrieved December 5, 2011, from Summit County Citizens Voice: http://summitcountyvoice.com/2011/11/28/climate-large-scale-carbon-capture-tried-in-illinois/

European Commission. (2011). CCS Network: European Carbon Cappture Storage Projects. Retrieved December 7, 2011, from sscnetwork.eu: https://www.ccsnetwork.eu/

Fogarty, D. (2008, December 15). Scientists urge caution in ocean-CO2 capture schemes. Retrieved December 6, 2011, from Reuters: http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/12/15/us-oceans-carbon-idUSTRE4BE0K520081215

Science Daily. (2009, November 17). Fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions up by 29 percent since 2000. Retrieved December 7, 2011, from Science Daily: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091117133504.htm#

 

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