Experts believe that in order to fully compensate for the planet’s damage, we must completely remove CO2 from the atmosphere.
Experts say there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure global temperatures do not continue to rise as the world shifts toward clean energy in automobiles and energy generation tactics. Carbon removal technology is a costly but effective solution that many companies and federal initiatives are just beginning to invest in.
According to Bloomberg, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Google parent company Alphabet are just two of the companies involved in a $2 billion total private equity investment in carbon removal startups. Furthermore, President Joe Biden’s administration has announced plans to invest $3.5 billion in the establishment of four separate carbon removal hubs in the United States for the development and testing of the technology.
The announcement follows an April report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which stated that carbon removal is “unavoidable” if the world is to meet global temperature targets required to avoid climate catastrophe. Despite the difficulty of doing so financially, politically, and affordably, the panel hopes to see carbon removal technology use increase a thousandfold within the decade.
Companies and governments have had a difficult time getting on board with climate change action. However, modern scientists believe that even achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions will not be enough to avert disaster.
According to energy systems engineer Niall Mac Dowell, the world must not only decarbonize as quickly as possible, but it must also reach negative emissions in order to have an impact.
“We need to get to zero emissions globally and then go significantly negative,” Mac Dowell said. “To fully compensate for the planet’s damage, CO2 must be permanently removed from the atmosphere.”
CO2 constitutes only 0.04 percent of the air, but 10% of exhaust gases, and carbon removal costs approximately 15 times the cost of carbon capture and storage.
Nonetheless, bipartisan support and necessary financial investments, such as those made by Musk and Alphabet, are only now beginning to emerge for carbon removal. Although carbon removal is more difficult than carbon capture and storage, or trapping gases at the tops of smokestacks and pumping them back into the Earth, the task is poised to have a large, much-needed impact that carbon capture and storage technologies have yet to achieve.
Carbon 180, a climate protection group based in Oakland, California, emphasizes that businesses and governments are increasingly turning to carbon removal technology.
“This is a watershed moment,” says Erin Burns, Director of Climate 180. “There is massive private-sector and federal investment, with bipartisan support.”
Carbon removal startups may develop strategies such as vacuuming CO2 from the atmosphere, crushing minerals to trap carbon, or planting massive seaweed forests on the ocean floor.
While shifting from gas to electric vehicles to reduce emissions is an important first step in addressing climate change, carbon removal will arguably play a more important role in the coming decades — so it seems safe to expect more of these types of investments in the coming years.