Can You Extract Carbon From the Air?
To paraphrase Patrick Star, why don’t we just take the climate crisis and push it somewhere else? That’s basically the idea behind carbon capture technology, seeking to pull the problem out of thin air and store it somewhere else. Well, that idea is projected to be worth $7 billion by 2028!
However, this technology is quite controversial, and many don’t believe in its viability. So, can you extract carbon from the air and if so, how? We’re glad you asked.
Why Extract Carbon From the Air?
First, you probably already know that we are in a climate emergency. Our governments, businesses, and individuals need to work together to reduce fossil fuel use and carbon emissions if we want a safe and sustainable future for the generations to come.
We’re even starting to see some of the tragic effects of global warming with rising sea levels, worsening storms, and an average of one new person displaced every second as a result of climate change.
Okay, so we’re on the same page there. However, reasonable people may still have questions. For example, should we be pulling carbon out of the atmosphere or reducing our current emissions?
Well, the answer is both. Both are essential components in our fight against climate change. Here’s why.
Current Threats and Challenges
Climate change is not a distant problem. It’s right here, right now. A short list of what we’ve seen just this year includes:
- Essential ice sheets melting faster than predicted
- 780% of average rainfall in Pakistan
- Unprecedented heat waves throughout Europe
- Worsening hurricanes in the Caribbean and East Coast US
- Record-breaking wildfires in the American West
- Droughts in historic wetlands across the globe
And these are only a few examples. Throughout the world, we’ve seen worsening natural disasters, hotter-than-average temperatures, species extinction at unprecedented rates, and so much more.
We don’t have to accept stopping at the revered 1.5C threshold when 1.2C is already so devastating. Instead, we need to move to reduce historic emissions that are already devastating communities around the world.
Future Threats and Challenges
Not only do we need to worry about current emissions, but future emissions as well. Even if we stopped using all fossil fuels today, the planet would continue to warm for an additional 20 years or more from current levels. Unfortunately, this could mean that certain tipping points are already going to happen.
There are so-called “feedback loops” that can cause devastating consequences around the planet. For example, hotter temperatures mean more wildfires, which means fewer trees, which means fewer carbon sinks.
Even worse, if permafrost near the poles melts, it could release methane, which is another powerful greenhouse gas, further warming the planet. Essentially, the hotter it is, the hotter it will get. 2 degrees may mean 4 degrees, which may mean 8 degrees.
This isn’t meant to sound “alarmist.” The truth is that scientists don’t know if their predictions are underestimates because this situation is so unprecedented. However, research does continue to get worse over time.
For these reasons and more, it’s essential to not only reduce our current emissions but to also reduce our historic ones. Fortunately, that is possible.
How Can We Extract Carbon From the Air?
Pulling a specific chemical compound out of thin air does sound tricky, and it is. Isolating and removing CO2 from the air is not an easy feat, but it needs to be done.
Fortunately, we have a few tools at our disposal. Here are the most popular.
Bioenergy masses, most notably trees, can remove carbon from our atmosphere. Prior to the use of fossil fuels, the earth maintained a delicate balance of CO2 and oxygen in the atmosphere. By cutting down trees and emitting excess carbon through fossil fuels, we tipped the scales.
Of course, this led to the greenhouse warming effect that we live with today. Unfortunately, a byproduct of global warming is further deforestation due to wildfires and aridification around the world. That’s why planting trees is an essential component of reaching net zero and removing our carbon legacy.
A great benefit here is that trees are not that expensive or difficult to plant. We’ve been doing it for thousands of years.
Fortunately, there is also plenty of space to plant new trees and reforest our once-green regions of the world. Still, it requires a lot of work and resources to pull off, and the space available, while vast, is finite. Therefore, bioenergy is a key component of removing CO2 from the atmosphere, but it cannot be the only piece of the puzzle.
Carbon Capture and Storage
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is stationary technology used to capture the carbon we currently emit. They do this at certain “hotspots” like exhaust pipes, smoke from fossil fuel plants, and more. The effort is to limit the emissions from current fossil fuel use.
A common example that you may even use is ZEV or PZEV technology. This stands for “Zero Emissions Vehicle” or “Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle.” Subaru is the most notable car manufacturer to use this, as they implemented it into most of their vehicles in response to California tightening emissions standards.
This is an important piece of the puzzle, as we cannot completely eliminate the use of fossil fuels. Certain sectors still rely on fossil fuels, like metalwork and airlines, so we need to work around this. Remember, we’re trying to reach net zero, not necessarily zero emissions.
However, this technology is imperfect. First of all, it doesn’t reduce 100% of the emissions in most cases, and fossil fuels emit greenhouse gases long before they’re ever used. Extraction and transport emit both CO2 and methane, which is up to 86 times the warming effect of CO2 in the short term.
Still, it should play an important role in our quest toward net zero, but it still isn’t enough.
Direct Air Capture
This is, by far, the most important type of carbon capture technology. As it continues to advance, it may help us remove our harmful legacy as a species since the industrial revolution.
Direct air capture (DAC) works anywhere by removing carbon dioxide directly from the air. This could be CO2 from a nearby gas plant or from a steam engine during the US civil war era. DAC can remove historical carbon, not just the new carbon that we emit today.
Consequently, this makes DAC one of the most important technologies available to help fight the climate crisis. If we exceed the 1.5C threshold, which is likely to happen, we will need to remove existing carbon from the atmosphere while bringing our emissions down to net zero.
Direct air capture is the best long-term solution for a livable planet. However, there is a time limit. If certain tipping points are reached, many major cities could be engulfed by rising sea levels.
As a result, the sooner we can expand DAC technology, the better chance we have of creating a future that somewhat resembles the present. Along with a dramatic transition away from fossil fuels, this is our best bet!
What Can I Do?
We all know that adding clean energy solutions to our homes and transportation systems will help. However, you’re told that you can’t do much more at the individual level. Fortunately, that isn’t true.
While EVs, solar panels, and other green tech get all the attention, there are other ways you can help. You can even offset your own carbon emissions by subscribing to DAC technology. It’s a monthly subscription that literally pulls one kg of CO2 out of the air for every Euro or dollar spent.
For reducing our historic emissions, there’s no better alternative available. All we can do is continue to improve upon DAC technology and reduce our current emissions!
Also, if you’re running a business, this is a great way to demonstrate the values of your brand to your audience. Boasting net zero emissions will certainly help boost your brand’s reputation, especially with younger generations. Either way, it’s the right thing to do!
Offset Your Emissions Today
Now that you know how technology is working to extract carbon from the air, don’t be all doom and gloom. There is plenty of potential out there to solve the climate crisis if we all work together, and technology is certainly a big piece of the puzzle. The best part is that you can help improve and expand that technology today and offset your own emissions!
Go green today and keep reading our blog for our latest news!