Many organisations have begun investing in CDR technology to attain net carbon neutrality in order to counterbalance the near-futility of attempting to reduce world emissions quickly enough to meet our looming warming targets.
What is CDR Technology?
Carbon dioxide removal (CDR), also known as carbon removal, greenhouse gas removal (GGR), or negative emissions, is a process in which carbon dioxide gas (CO2) is intentionally removed from the atmosphere and permanently stored in geological, terrestrial, or ocean reservoirs, or in products.
Coming back to the news, if we can’t stop the water from entering the hole-ridden ship fast enough, we can at least try to purge the water that’s now drowning the boat, buying us some time. However, CDR’s newfound popularity has been marred by numerous issues for a variety of reasons.
The first is that removing carbon from the atmosphere still requires a significant amount of energy. This suggests that a huge scientific breakthrough and enormous amounts of resources are still required to make the process feasible and scalable.
The second, as described in a Nature article by David T. Ho, is that firms just employ the technology to appear to be emission-free. They may appear to be sustainable on paper, but given the limited time available to keep global warming below safe levels, we will require more time to get there.
This is how David describes it.
According to calculations, the world would release a massive 40.5 billion tonnes of CO2 by 2022. This translates to around 77,000 tonnes of carbon being released into the atmosphere every second. This occurs 5,25,600 times a minute in a year.
Consider the cutting-edge Direct Air Capture (DAC) centres that the United States is building to achieve carbon neutrality. Every year, each facility is expected to remove one million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere.
As a result, if we examine the 77,000 tonnes of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere per minute, each facility could only reverse emissions from around 13 of those minutes per year at full capacity.
This also implies that we will require around 40,430 comparable DAC installations to be operational at the same time in order to absorb all of the carbon dumped into the atmosphere each year. Given that the US spent $3.5 billion dollars erecting just four, you don’t need to do the maths to know how impossible the whole thing could be.
“We have to shift the narrative as a matter of urgency. Money is going to flood into climate solutions over the next few years, and we need to direct it well,” Ho explains. “We must stop talking about deploying CDR as a solution today, when emissions remain high — as if it somehow replaces radical, immediate emission cuts.”
However, this does not mean we should abandon CDR. If we reduced CO2 emissions by just 4 billion tonnes per year — a 10% reduction — each plant would provide carbon reductions equivalent to 2 hours instead of 13 minutes.
Under these new conditions, we would only need roughly 4,000 facilities to achieve net zero emissions in any given year, assuming that these are also powered by renewable sources.
Many businesses are turning to carbon capture technologies to reduce their environmental effect. For example, Microsoft plans to employ algae to remove up to 12,000 tonnes of carbon equivalent over the next two years. Many other organisations grow trees in order to offset emissions.
Given the fragile state of the environment and the extremely small window of opportunity for long-term change, how we use CDR in the next years will surely decide the next chapters of our fight against climate change.