What is carbon-capture?

If there is an underused powerful tool fight the climate crisis, that's carbon-capture. What is it, and what makes it so powerful?

We all know that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere right now is a problem. CO2, or carbon dioxide, is a greenhouse gas.

Moreover, we continue to pump it into the atmosphere at accelerated rates. It is useful to think of a ship that is sinking because water is getting in.

Water in the ship = CO2 in the atmosphere

The ship sinks = The climate crisis makes Earth a permanently hostile environment

Most climate-change strategies rely on decreasing the amount of CO2 that we produce. These strategies are designed to slow the speed at which water gets into the ship, thus the ship will be less likely to sink.

Using renewable energy, implementing energy efficiency measures, promoting public transportation, decreasing air traffic and similar strategies are aimed at reducing the speed at which we produce CO2, but they won't be able to flatten the curve by themselves. There is too much water in the ship already. A sinking scenario is aready starting to happen.

What do you do if your ship is sinking? Well you grab a bucket and start tossing water back into the sea as fast as you can. That is carbon capture: taking CO2 from the atmosphere, and putting it back on Earth's surface where it belongs. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2018), there is no way we are going to be able to meet our climate targets without carbon capture strategies.

Fortunately, there are lots of ways to do this. Some are tech-oriented, and others are entirely nature-based.

Nature-based solutions work with the concept of photosynthesis. Remember how we were taught that plants "breathe" CO2 in and "breathe" Oxygen out? Well, this is actually one of the most efficient ways to clean up the air we, too, breathe. Deforestation is rapidly limiting the Earth’s ability to naturally do this, so it is imperative that we help.

The reason photosynthesis works so well is because it does exactly the opposite of what a combustion reaction does. When we burn fuel such as petroleum, gasoline, or wood, oxygen in the air reacts with carbon within the fuel. They combine and create the infamous CO2.

When a tree does photosynthesis, it takes CO2 from the atmosphere. It splits the molecule, sending the “O2” part (oxygen) to the air. The “C” part becomes the tree’s wood, so it stays there and stops provoking climate change.

A large nature-based carbon-capture program (such as Toroto’s) consists of doing large-scale forest management. We protect, nurture, and grow forests in such a way that forestal area is increased, but also so that the amount of CO2 captured per hectare increases.

The concrete reason we like nature-based solutions is because:

- We get clean air by also producing oxygen

- Rural jobs are created because huge forests can only exist in rural areas

- Water is harvested by forests, and they also prevent erosion

- Endemic wildlife is able to live in these forests

Tech-oriented solutions vary widely. There are two main ways to approach the solution:

1. Capture CO2 as it exits its source, then store it

2. Suck CO2 from the atmosphere, then store it

Both present challenges, and at the moment, none are more cost effective than planting trees and taking care of them. Regardless, massive business opportunities exist. 

If we were able to suck CO2 from the atmosphere and then build useful materials with it, it could be major for the fight against climate change. Imagine that we were able to replace plastic with a material made from CO2!

Some startups are working on this and seem to be finding promising solutions. For the time being, we’ll stick to planting trees and taking care of them.


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