Governments are currently promoting the development of industrial-chemical subsidies for CO2 capture on the premise that this will allow us to continue burning fossil fuels without harming the climate. But, the two most commonly used methods, which taxpayers finance, emit more CO2 into the air than they remove.
Carbon capture and storage
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) involves capturing CO2 from factory chimneys and using it mostly for “enhanced oil recovery”, adding it back to atmospheric CO2.¹ Direct air separation (DAC), which removes CO2 from the ambient air, requires a huge amount of energy. If extracted from fossil fuels, DAC is also a net CO2 emitter.²
According to studies, these subsidies for CO2 capture emit 1.4 to 4.7 times more CO2 than they remove.³ This research seems to have passed US, UK and European legislators who are promoting these methods, to the financial benefit of oil companies and others who promote industrial carbon capture. This is a problem – collectively we must reduce atmospheric CO2.
Financial incentives address market players. They should see CO2 as a commercial component for applications such as synfuels or cement. Companies would bury the CO2 in gigatonnes, allegedly without any harmful effects.
But, the markets for the use of captured CO2 are negligible regarding demand on a climate-sensitive scale, and collateral damage associated with the geological storage of CO2 include earthquakes, water pollution and volcanic eruptions.
Public subsidies of CO2 capture are not justified
Solutions will not come through profit incentives. CCS can never reduce atmospheric CO2, because you cannot bury more than you capture from chimneys. Public subsidies are, therefore, not justified. However, DAC can achieve a net CO2 reduction if it captures and stores CO2 instead of selling it.⁴
If carbon capture is indispensable, which is questionable in itself, and has to be paid for publicly, decision-makers need a tool to compare methods in terms of resource use and biophysical results.
Technology and expertise should be located in the public sector, and procurement should be the responsibility of public officials who are committed to societal needs. Only then could carbon removal provide the biophysical yield that humanity needs.
¹ What is CCS?, http://www.ccsassociation.org/what-is-ccs/
² Direct Air Capture, https://www.iea.org/reports/direct-air-capture
³ Carbon Cleanup: The Public is Paying, But Who is Profiting?, https://www.bu.edu/eci/files/2020/09/Carbon-Cleanup-as-a-Public-Need-8-20-20-BU-1.pdf
⁴ Sucking carbon out of the air won’t solve climate change, https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2018/6/14/17445622/direct-air-capture-air-to-fuels-carbon-dioxide-engineering