Capturing and storing carbon can help meet global temperature goals

World is on track to capture and store enough carbon to keep global temperature increases below 3.6F in line with the Paris Climate Change agreement, scientists claim

  • Carbon capture storage is one of the solutions proposed by climate experts 
  • It is one measure to keep global temperature from rising by more than 3.6F 
  • The process involves capturing CO2 and storing it underground in sealed containers to prevent that carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere

The world is on target to keep global temperatures from rising by more than 3.6F thanks to efforts to capture and store carbon dioxide underground, study shows.

Researchers at Imperial College London found that 2,700 Gigatonnes of CO2 storage space would be needed to achieve the goal set at the Paris Climate Agreement. 

Efforts to store CO2 in underground reservoirs in a bid to meet the goal would need to be done alongside other measures such as switching to renewable energy.

Carbon capture storage works by taking CO2 as it is produced in factories and power plants and then storing it underground so it doesn’t enter the atmosphere. 

According to industry experts there is capacity for more than 10,000 Gigatonnes of CO2 storage around the world – far below the level needed to meet the 3.6F target. 

Worldwide carbon emissions will be almost 8 per cent lower than usual in 2020 and its due to lockdown measures to slow the spread of coronavirus

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – a UN body of scientists and economists set the goal and assesses the impacts and future risks of climate change along with options for response and mitigation.

Carbon Capture Storage (CCS) is one measure for keeping the planet fro warming to dangerous levels, others include using cleaner energy and transport as well as increasing the efficiency of energy use.

CCS is a process which involves trapping waste CO2 from emission sources such as factories and power plants, and storing it underground to stop the greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere. 

The researchers combined data on the past 20 years of growth in CCS, and found there has been an 8.6 per cent increase in CCS capacity worldwide in that time.

They say this is on track to meet some of the targets identified in the IPCC reports.

Study leader Dr Christopher Zahasky said: ‘Nearly all IPCC pathways to limit warming to 2C require tens of gigatons of CO2 stored per year by mid-century.

‘However, until now, we didn’t know if these targets were achievable given historic data, or how these targets related to subsurface storage space requirements.

‘We found that even the most ambitious scenarios are unlikely to need more than 2,700 Gt of CO2 storage resource globally, much less than the 10,000 Gt of storage resource that leading reports suggest is possible.

‘Our study shows that if climate change targets are not met by 2100, it won’t be for a lack of carbon capture and storage space.’

CCS is a process which involves trapping waste CO2 from emission sources such as factories and power plants, and storing it underground to stop the greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere

Not everyone agrees with moves to focus on CCS as a means to achieving the climate action goals. 

Commenting on the research, Grant Allen, a professor of atmospheric physics at the University of Manchester, who was not involved in the study, said that the promise of CCS as a ‘silver bullet’ for offsetting emissions should be considered with caution. 

‘As the study concludes, the growth of CCS installed capacity needs to accelerate before it can meaningfully offset emissions, and there is much more work to do to identify suitable storage locations.’

He said that the potential of CCS should not be seen as a reason not to cut carbon emissions now as there is no guarantee of its success. 

‘We need to accelerate both actions – carbon capture and emissions reduction.’ 

The researchers say that the rate at which CO2 is stored is important in its success in climate change mitigation.

The faster CO2 is stored, the less total subsurface storage resource is needed to meet storage targets.

This is because it becomes harder to find new reservoirs or make further use of existing reservoirs as they become full. 

Krevor added: ‘Our analysis shows good news for CCS if we keep up with this trajectory – but there are many other factors in mitigating climate change and its catastrophic effects, like using cleaner energy and transport as well as significantly increasing the efficiency of energy use.’     

Richard Herrington, Head of Earth Sciences at the Natural History Museum in London said CCS should be seen as a stop gap.

‘Longer term, we need to reduce our burning of carbon to reach a real net zero with the introduction of renewables, thus negating the need for CCS but achieving this, particularly for transport systems, in the time frame available is very challenging. In 

‘the short term, CCS is one of the transitional technologies that can help reduce emissions until we have revolutionised energy systems for industry, transport and domestic users,’ he said.

The findings have been published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science. 

WHAT IS CARBON CAPTURING AND HOW DOES IT WORK?

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) captures emissions produced from the use of fossil fuels in electricity generation and industrial processes.

It aims to prevent the carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere and is able to capture up to 90 per cent of the carbon dioxide (CO2) they emit.

The use of CCS with renewable biomass is one of the few carbon abatement technolo­gies that can be used in a ‘carbon-negative’ mode ­– actually taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

The process consists of three parts – capturing the carbon dioxide; transporting the carbon dioxide; and securely storing the carbon dioxide emissions.

These can be stored underground in depleted oil and gas fields or deep saline aquifer formations.

Carbon capture technologies allow the separation of carbon dioxide from gases produced in electricity generation and industrial processes by one of three methods: pre-combustion capture; post-combustion capture; and oxyfuel com­bustion.

Carbon dioxide is then transported by pipeline or by ship for safe storage. Millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide are already transported annually for commercial purposes by road tanker, ship and pipelines. 

The carbon dioxide is then stored in carefully selected geological rock formation that are typically located several miles below the earth’s surface.

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