Carbon capture and storage
Access to energy is central to human well-being and as a result energy
demand is expected to grow. Unfortunately, today’s energy
infrastructures, mainly fueled by fossil carbon, are unsustainable.
Affordable alternatives to replace fossil fuels still need to be
developed. The use of fossil carbon results in thirty billion tons of
annual carbon dioxide emissions, which is a potent greenhouse gas and
drives global warming. In order to stop climate change, carbon
dioxide emissions must nearly completely cease. After stopping
emissions and without active removal of carbon dioxide from the
atmosphere, it will take natural processes millennia to return the
atmosphere to pre-industrial carbon dioxide levels. Capture
and storage technologies offer one solution to this conundrum. We
will discuss technologies for the capture of carbon dioxide – at large
point sources or directly from the atmosphere – and technologies for
the subsequent safe and permanent disposal of the captured carbon.
Together, these technologies can eliminate all carbon dioxide emissions
and therefore maintain access to one of the largest and most convenient
energy resources the world has ever seen, while at the same time
eliminating their detrimental side effects of climate change, ocean
acidification and eutrophication of the biosphere with excess carbon.
Point source capture is likely to be cheaper than air capture, but
direct capture from ambient air will make it possible to close the
carbon cycle entirely. Closure is achieved either through permanent
storage of the carbon or through recycling the carbon as a synthetic
fuel produced from carbon dioxide, water and non-fossil energy.
Operating at sufficient scale, air capture combined with storage could
also reverse the past rise in carbon dioxide and return the atmosphere
to the lower concentrations of the twentieth century.
Klaus S. Lackner
Ewing and J. Lamar Worzel Professor of Geophysics,
Earth and Environmental Engineering
Director of Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy,
The Earth Institute
Klaus Lackner is developing innovative approaches to energy issues of
the future. He has been instrumental in forming ZECA, the Zero Emission
Coal Alliance, which is an industry-led effort to develop coal power
with zero emissions to the atmosphere. His recent work is on
environmentally acceptable technologies for the use of fossil fuels.
Lackner and his team are developing a device they have dubbed an air
extractor, modeled after one of the most abundant but most complicated
devices in nature: the leaf of a tree. Leaves are significant absorbers
of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but planting enough of trees to
absorb the current overabundance of carbon dioxide in the world would
leave no fertile land left for other uses. After a year of testing, his
team was able to design a new material, flat and smooth, that would
pull CO2 out of the air in a process called engineered chemical sinkage.