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Increasing Carbon Capture Could Help Mitigate Climate Change

As nations meet in Madrid for a debate on how to decrease greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change, a new study makes the case that trapping emissions underground could be more beneficial in the long run for solving the issue.

A new study shows that storing carbon dioxide beneath the ocean floor, as depicted in this graphic, could help fight climate change. Image Credit: UK Department of Energy & Climate Change.

The study, which was performed at The University of Texas at Austin, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and the Equinor Research Centre, analyzes the technology of carbon capture and storage (CCS), which involves trapping carbon dioxide from industrial and power plants and storing it more than a mile underground within very small spaces in the rock.

The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has reported that by 2050, CCS must realize 13% of the world’s obligatory emission reductions. A group of industry representatives, policy-makers, and nongovernment organizations have raised doubts about whether CCS can meet its portion of the objective, but the new research published in Nature Scientific Reports indicates that CCS could accomplish its targets.

With this paper, we provide an actionable, detailed pathway for CCS to meet the goals. This is a really big hammer that we can deploy right now to put a dent in our emissions profile.

Tip Meckel, Study Co-Author, Bureau of Economic Geology, The University of Texas at Austin

The study analyzes the amount of geological space available in formations that is possibly ideal for holding greenhouse gas emissions, preventing them from reaching the atmosphere. In addition, it calculates the number of wells required globally to achieve the IPCC’s 2050 goal.

The study concludes there is easily sufficient space in the world’s nearshore continental margins to satisfy the IPCC’s objective of storing 6 to 7 gigatons of carbon dioxide a year by 2050, and that the objective could be realized by setting up 10,000 to 14,000 injection wells internationally in the next three decades.

It may look like plenty of wells, but the scientists highlight that the oil and gas industry has already demonstrated that a quick build-up of infrastructure is feasible. They point to the global CCS deployment needed over the following three decades being almost comparable to the development of oil and gas infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico over the past 70 years, or five times the growth of Norwegian oil and gas infrastructure in the North Sea.

The great thing about this study is that we have inverted the decarbonization challenge by working out how many wells are needed to achieve emissions cuts under the 2–degree (Celsius) scenario. It turns out to be only a fraction of the historical petroleum industry—or around 12,000 wells globally. Shared among 5–7 continental CCS hubs—that is only about 2,000 wells per region. Very doable! But we need to get cracking as soon as possible.

Philip Ringrose, Study Lead Author and Adjunct Professor, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Meckel also emphasizes that there are important tax credits in the United States to help make carbon capture projects feasible, adding that this could serve as a model for other nations, especially those with industries near the coast where CO2 could be more easily conveyed by pipelines into underground geological formations offshore.

Computer models employed by the IPCC and the International Energy Agency imply that decreases in carbon dioxide emissions come from a combination of energy efficiency, growth in renewables, and decarbonizing energy production and consumption through technologies like CCS.

Other approaches include the replacement of wood, biomass, and other carbon-based cooking fuels; using natural gas and fuel cell vehicles; replacing coal power generation with natural gas; and using pipelines instead of diesel barges, trucks, and trains to transport natural gas.

Representatives from 200 nations gathered at the UN Climate Change Conference COP 25 in Madrid to discuss details on how to meet the emission reductions goals. According to Meckel, this is the ideal time for leaders to look closely at how carbon storage could play a major role.

We’ve shown that the geology and the speed of the development could meet the goal. This is a very pragmatic way of going after this.

Tip Meckel, Study Co-Author, Bureau of Economic Geology, The University of Texas at Austin

The research was financially supported by Equinor and the bureau’s Gulf Coast Carbon Center. The Bureau of Economic Geology is a unit of the UT Jackson School of Geosciences.


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