captured carbon

In a slickly produced video posted on YouTube in September 2016, a man starts with a simple but intriguing question, “We recycle metal, plastic, paper – why can’t we recycle CO2?”. Using captured carbon for products is not a new idea. But it has gained prominence in light of the climate crisis. The video shows how a company built the first athletic sneakers using CO2 emissions.1 You can watch the video here.

We know that carbon dioxide emissions are rapidly heating the planet and causing global warming. But it is less well known that CO2 can be captured and turned into potentially useful products. In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) technology could help reduce carbon emissions. Subsequently, this could slow down global warming.2 But the technology is still new, and it is not fully commercially viable yet.

Captured carbon: What can we do with it?

Companies already use captured carbon for a number of uses, from pumping it underground to extract more oil3 to using it for fizzy drinks.4

But now, more companies are experimenting with new uses that keep CO2 out of the atmosphere for longer. For example, carbon dioxide can be used in cement and concrete building materials. Some companies have found injecting it strengthens the material and saves water. Carbon dioxide can also be used to make liquid fuels, such as gasoline or diesel, according to some companies. Others are using carbon dioxide to make chemicals and plastics that can be used elsewhere.5

Clearly, there are numerous potential uses for captured carbon. But those that keep CO2 out of the atmosphere for longer would be best to stop climate change.

Carbon emissions
Photo by Markus Distelrath from Pexels

Making the best of a bad situation with our carbon

Carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) technology isn’t going to solve climate change. In fact, the technology is so new and expensive that the IPCC does not expect it to play a major role in tackling climate change.6

Moreover, many processes involving captured carbon do not permanently remove carbon dioxide from the air. Instead, like injecting it into oil fields or turning it into liquid, fuel simply produces more carbon dioxide. It is a form of recycling carbon. But tackling climate change will require us to stop emitting carbon dioxide or find a cheaper way to remove CO2 from the air permanently.7

Captured carbon: Can we really turn it into sneakers?

It was called the ‘shoe without a footprint’. In 2016, NRG Energy posted a video on how it used captured carbon to make polymer sneakers.8 It wanted to do more than just showcase new technology, but also start a debate. But the process is still so expensive that sneakers made from carbon emissions will not be on the mass market yet. The company only created five pairs in a competition for uses for captured carbon.9

While carbon capture technology is still in its infancy, it holds great potential. But we do know one thing so far. It is not a substitute for reducing our carbon emissions in other ways.

Sources

  1. www.youtube.com. (n.d.). The Shoe Without A Footprint. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a03PbC8UdqQ [Accessed 5 May 2021].
  2. Global CCS Institute. (2018). Carbon capture and storage remains essential to beating climate change. [online] Available at: https://www.globalccsinstitute.com/news-media/press-room/media-releases/carbon-capture-and-storage-remains-essential-to-beating-climate-change/.
  3. Roberts, D. (2019). Could squeezing more oil out of the ground help fight climate change? [online] Vox. Available at: https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2019/10/2/20838646/climate-change-carbon-capture-enhanced-oil-recovery-eor.
  4. Ambrose, J. (2020). What is carbon capture, usage and storage – and can it trap emissions? [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/sep/24/what-is-carbon-capture-usage-and-storage-and-can-it-trap-emissions.[online] Available at: https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2019/05/29/co2-utilization-profits/ [Accessed 6 May 2021].
  5. Roberts, D. (2019). Climate change: 6 uses for CO2 that could cut emissions and make money. [online] Vox. Available at: https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2019/11/13/20839531/climate-change-industry-co2-carbon-capture-utilization-storage-ccu.
  6. IPCC. (2018). IPCC Special Report on Carbon dioxide Capture and Storage. [online] Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/03/srccs_chapter8-1.pdf.
  7. Roberts, D. (2019). Climate change: 6 uses for CO2 that could cut emissions and make money. [online] Vox. Available at: https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2019/11/13/20839531/climate-change-industry-co2-carbon-capture-utilization-storage-ccu.
  8. www.youtube.com. (n.d.). The Shoe Without A Footprint. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a03PbC8UdqQ [Accessed 5 May 2021].
  9. Drax. (2018). What can be made from captured carbon? – Drax. [online] Available at: https://www.drax.com/technology/can-made-captured-carbon/.