Graphiti

The Carbon Capture Conundrum

 

Many things will have to happen if we are to lower greenhouse-gas emissions enough by 2050 to avoid catastrophic climate change. One of those things, according to a number of projections, is the large-scale deployment of carbon capture and sequestration technology, or CCS. In this process, carbon dioxide emissions from such sources as fossil-fuel power plants and industrial facilities are collected, compressed, transported to a storage site, and injected deep underground for permanent storage. Indeed, with demand for fossil fuels still soaring, the International Energy Agency predicts that one-fifth of the carbon dioxide reductions necessary by 2050 will have to come from CCS (shown in blue in the chart above).

The problem is that large-scale CCS is poorly understood and prohibitively expensive. As a result, there are not yet any facilities aimed at controlling power plant emissions. In the absence of government incentives, technology for injecting carbon dioxide underground is used mainly by oil companies as a way to extract hard-to-reach oil; these and other projects are injecting about 20 million metric tons of the gas annually. By the IEA’s estimate, annual carbon dioxide sequestration will need to jump by a factor of about 15 by 2020 and 120 by 2030, and at least 110 more big CCS facilities must come online in the next eight years. Although 65 are in planning or construction phases, building one can take more than a decade. This problem might not be one we can bury.

Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.
Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all five of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium

$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Sustainable Energy

Can we sustainably provide food, water, and energy to a growing population during a climate crisis?

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

You've read of free articles this month.