Posted on September 2, 2019 by Justin Ong and Ron Munson
What is carbon capture?
Carbon capture, utilization and storage, aka “CCS” or “CCUS”, refers to the removal of carbon dioxide from the waste streams of industrial processes or from the atmosphere, for storage underground or “recycling” into new products. Much like the term “energy efficiency”, carbon capture is an umbrella term for many technologies. This overview describes the main technology types.
Is carbon capture possible?
Carbon capture was pioneered in the U.S. several decades ago. Spurred by the 1970s energy crisis, engineers discovered that injecting carbon dioxide into old oil fields boosted production. Pure carbon dioxide was often sourced, or “captured,” from industrial facilities. To boost oil production, ten industrial facilities were retrofitted to capture 24 million tons of carbon dioxide each year — the absorbing ability of 500 billion trees!
Separately, public-private research projects have safely stored millions of tons of carbon dioxide across America. The total underground storage potential in the U.S. is enormous, estimated to be more than 500 years worth of emissions.
What is carbon capture research focused on?
Finding a needle in a haystack is much easier when there are more needles. In a similar way, carbon capture is easier with high carbon dioxide concentrations. The energy required – and hence the cost – to separate CO2 from other gases increases rapidly as the concentration of carbon dioxide decreases. It’s not a surprise then that most carbon capture projects are at ethanol plants, natural gas processing facilities, and others that produce gases with high concentrations of carbon dioxide.
Carbon Dioxide Concentrations by Source
As reducing global greenhouse gas emissions has become an international priority, more R&D is being devoted to reduce capture costs from lower concentration sources such as power plants, chemical facilities and even directly from the air. Policies that support carbon capture deployment, including the expanded U.S. carbon capture tax credit and emerging state incentives, have been major commercial drivers.