Global climate change is a growing concern as heat waves, droughts, and other natural disasters wreak havoc across the world. Individually, we can continue to make all the humble efforts to be waste free and use green energy, but according to the EPA, petroleum refineries and plants that manufacture acid, glass, and cement are responsible for an alarming amount of the world’s pollution from carbon emissions via fossil fuels.
An article from The New York Times highlights the stark data that carbon dioxide emissions hit a record high in 2019. The silver lining, however, was that emissions from industrial plants were 0.9 percent lower compared to 2018. The United States and Europe succeeded in cutting emissions from the previous year, while India fell behind in its efforts.
Carbon dioxide is one of the most versatile and important atmospheric gases for a wide range of industries. The urgency of climate change begs the question – what is currently being done to decrease emissions, and is it enough? Is it possible to recycle harmful carbon emissions in the atmosphere into renewable energy?
International companies from the Swiss Alps to the Rocky Mountains in the US are joining forces and testing their concepts for carbon capture; however, they still remain in the infancy stage of carbon capture technology. Tests such as collecting carbon directly from smokestacks has proved possible but has yet to be made a widespread practice due to high costs. Most of the world’s largest carbon capture facilities are in the Western United States in Texas, Wyoming and North Dakota. In the near future, the Rocky Mountain region could add a new carbon capture facility based in Colorado. An entire squad of corporations (Occidental Petroleum Corp., Svante Inc., LafargeHolcim, and Total SA) have partnered to make such a project a reality. The foreign companies are examining the viability of the concept of capturing Co2 at a Colorado cement plant to reduce emissions and storing it underground rather than releasing it into the atmosphere. Of the current 19 carbon capture and storage plants around the world, they are responsible for capturing around 40 million tonnes annually.
While storing carbon underground is a better solution than adding to greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants, it does not create a profit for plants that are participating, and in fact it creates extra cost for them. Since it requires the plants to spend more money, it will be difficult to get businesses to buy in on the basis of reducing carbon emissions alone. If plants could sell or use what emissions are captured, there would be more incentive to join climate change efforts.
Several concepts for carbon capture are currently being tested that if successful would allow carbon to be recycled rather than buried. These creative solutions are on a smaller scale than industrial plants but could still provide universal solutions based on the use of everyday items.
EPFL, a technical university in Switzerland, has created a concept that could have the capacity to capture carbon directly from a truck’s exhaust, decreasing emissions from this source by up to 90 percent. The captured Co2 would be converted into liquid Co2 and stored in a container on board the truck. Using the energy of the vehicle, this internal system would do the work of cooling fumes, separating water, and isolating Co2 in a separate container. The container would later be dropped off at a service station that would work to convert the liquid back into fuel as renewable energy. This strategy would greatly decrease the amount of carbon being released into the air, with roughly only the remaining ten percent being lost into the atmosphere. The idea is that any vehicle of transportation – including boats – that run on fuel can utilize this Co2 recycling system.
Not too far away at the University of Lyon, France, a team has been experimenting with carbon dioxide captured from car exhaust as well, adding it to a chemical mixture to dissolve metals into liquids and separate them from the batteries of old smartphones and other electronics. This experiment couples recycling captured carbon dioxide with recycling metal and reducing battery waste that would otherwise remain undecomposed in landfills. Carbon capture technology could be applied in endless situations to assist in the reduction of emissions. The efforts that focus on recycling as opposed to storing will likely yield greater long-term.
The biggest hurdle to implementing large scale carbon capture facilities is the reality that they are billion dollar investments. Without some sort of payoff for investing in carbon capture, it will be challenging to recruit companies to contribute to reducing climate change. This is why humble efforts to make creative carbon capture solutions on a smaller scale that focus on recycling carbon could be essential in the fight to reduce emissions.