Environment

The truth about carbon capture

Carbon capture is big business, but its challenges fly in the face of the need to lower emissions. Can we square the circle on this technological Wild West?

a silhouetted carbon capture industrial plant against a white mountain background as the sun rises, casting a warm glow over the landscape Expand Image

In July 2020, Shell Oil’s Alberta-based Quest project announced that, in under five years since it had started operating, it had captured and safely stored five million tonnes of carbon dioxide — an amount equal to the annual emissions from 1.25 million cars. Not only that, but the cost to do so was about a third less than anticipated. With combined federal and Alberta government grants to launch the project totalling $865 million, bean-counters somewhere surely cheered this efficiency.

The Quest facility captures CO2 from retrofitted hydrogen manufacturing units within Shell’s Scotford upgrader, about 45 kilometres northeast of Edmonton, where the hydrogen is put to work transforming oilsands bitumen into usable crude. The CO2 is then transported 65 kilometres through a pipeline and injected into a geological reservoir two kilometres below the surface.

Although the announced capture of roughly one megatonne per year represented just a tiny fraction of the 35 to 40 billion tonnes (or gigatonnes) of CO2 emitted globally each year, for Canadians scanning the horizon for some sort of clinquant saviour to help achieve national climate goals, this announcement fit the bill.

But wait a minute, said environmentalists.

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After analyzing details, watchdog organization Global Witness released a report in January 2022 accusing Quest of failing to live up to industry’s lofty claims of capturing 90 per cent of CO2 from this particular way of generating hydrogen from natural gas. Instead, it calculated that the project captured only 48 per cent of CO2 produced — and just 39 per cent if the fuel stock’s life-cycle emissions were considered. In either case, averred Global Witness, Shell wasn’t being fully transparent. Reaction from the climate cognoscenti was swift. Notably, global activist Greta Thunberg tweeted to her megatonnes of followers: “This is exactly what happens when people in power care more about their reputation and imagery than to actually reduce emissions.”

She wasn’t exactly wrong. If the “greenwashing” on the website of any fossil-fuel company — including those involved in the noblesse oblige of carbon capture, use and storage, referred to by the abbreviation CCUS — is any measure of the need to project a corporate image of being invested in climate action, then her point was well taken. But the issue isn’t black and white.

Carbon capture remains a poorly understood “tall poppy” whose short-comings are endlessly dissected, failures inordinately cheered, and vast potential hobbled by the need to fund and monetize it at the scale necessary to make a difference. Pairing this black-hole perception with an oil company that had just lost an international class-action lawsuit finding it liable for its contributions to climate change, the ensuing news coverage carried a distinct “told you so” tone. But Shell shot back, claiming the report was wrong and that Global Witness was comparing “apples with pears.” If you dug into the details, Shell, too, had a point.

In the end, the media imbroglio amounted to little more than mud-slinging in a PR swamp. But it said something about the real estate being staked out in the carbon-capture sand-box. Whatever Quest’s performance against expectations might have been, it had stored five megatonnes of CO2 that would otherwise be in the atmosphere — dropping the price of doing so in the bargain. And, according to the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute, Quest annually sequesters the greatest volume of CO2 globally of any onshore facility with dedicated geological storage — all with no smoke and mirrors: annual performance reports are available on the Alberta government website, with monitoring to ensure the CO2 is permanently stored verified by a third party (Norway-based Det Norske Veritas).

So, if Quest succeeded in sequestering almost half the carbon pollution from an industrial process that was happening anyway, isn’t this some kind of progress?

Certainly, carbon capture technologies and products could ease the renewable-energy transition for industry, but only so long as life-cycle emissions from their manufacture and use are accounted for; in industries that can’t switch to a non fossil-fuel source, this will become increasingly important. But that also suggests fossil-fuel extraction will persist. Indeed, energy agencies expect carbon output will climb well into the 2030s. As an example, despite increased regulation, new technologies and hyperbolic claims of ethicality, Canada’s oilsands remain among the planet’s most climate-polluting sources of oil. And while operators in this space have banded together to pledge to reduce emissions, the intent of all is to continue fossil-fuel extraction. With climate ambitions of a net-zero economy by 2050, how is Canada poised to square this circle?

Understanding the math

Broadly speaking, carbon capture refers to a collection of technologies that capture CO2 either from the atmosphere directly (a process known as direct air capture or DAC) or from high-emitting sources like industrial and power facilities. Once captured, that CO2 can be used on-site, or compressed and transported to be permanently stored underground in basalt (volcanic rock), spent oil and gas reservoirs, or saline aquifers (as in the Quest example). Alternatively, it can be used to extract crude oil from old wells or to create products like concrete, fizzy drinks and low-carbon synthetic fuels. All of this serves to lower the emissions of the processes involved. In fact, CCUS can theoretically deliver negative emissions when more carbon gets permanently stored than is spent on capturing it.

The federal government identifies carbon capture as being critical to six key pathways in its net-zero strategy: decarbonizing heavy industry, developing negative-emissions tech that can scrub CO2 from the atmosphere, producing on-demand low-carbon power, producing low-carbon hydrogen, promoting industries that use CO2 and, most critically, making cleaner oil and gas.

As you’ve surmised, math can’t be avoided in articulating the urgency and challenge around carbon capture. Remember that 35 to 40 Gt of CO2 the world releases into the atmosphere every year? Globally, we’re now capturing only about 0.1 per cent of that — a pittance compared with the 10 Gt per year of removal necessary to ensure planetary warming doesn’t exceed 1.5 C by 2050. Even if direct air capture scales up by then to contribute a projected 1 Gt per year to this total, that leaves 9 Gt per year to be captured and stored from industries fuelled by biomass, natural gas, oil and coal — roughly equivalent to 9,000 Quest projects. Can this even be done? 

To get back to a ‘safe’ level of CO2 we need to remove about one trillion tonnes of legacy CO2 from the atmosphere. We’re definitely in trouble.

“It’s not can we,” says Lori Guetre, VP and head of business development for Carbon Engineering, a small Canadian company with a big idea that has seen it set up North America’s first viable plant to capture CO2 directly from the air. “It’s will we. We have the tech to do this now. But we don’t have 30 years to wait to invent new stuff. So the real question is how do we marshal the cheapest and fastest carbon-capture processes already in use?”

This seems reasonable from a practical standpoint, but the Quest brouhaha shows how quickly it can become overly idealistic. Even as carbon capture becomes more prevalent, efficient and financially accessible, publicly bankrolling the sector is seen by many as further subsidizing an unrepentant oil and gas industry that claims carbon capture is its only way forward. Many climate thinkers occupy a middle ground: achieving emission reductions through less reliance on fossil fuels remains job one — but it’s hard to see a future where carbon capture doesn’t play a role. Indeed, says Guetre, across the spectrum there is talk of a dire need to scale up all carbon capture, deploy it globally and bring it to bear not just on building a carbon-neutral economy but on mopping up the enormity of legacy CO2 accrued in the past 200 years — a period in which atmospheric concentrations increased from 280 parts per million that had stood for six millennia to a dangerous amount of roughly 420 ppm. 

Being good at math, Guetre harbours no illusions about the immensity of this challenge. “We’re currently adding 2 ppm per year. So, if you look at the remaining carbon budget before 1.5 degrees of warming occurs, we have less than 7.5 years before crossing that threshold at 430 ppm,” she says. “To get back to a ‘safe’ level of CO2 — about 350 ppm — we need to remove about one trillion tonnes of legacy CO2 from the atmosphere. We’re definitely in trouble.”

Mother of the wind

On a sizzling summer afternoon in Squamish, B.C. — the kind that’s become more common in the once temperate Pacific Northwest — I bump down a rutted gravel road, past rumbling machinery and debris piles, to the sea. A massive development is underway to transform the oceanfront here into a more people-friendly space that fits with the town’s rapid growth and gentrification. The setting, at least, is stunning. Looking out over Howe Sound, centrepiece of the Átl’ka7tsem/ Howe Sound UNESCO World Biosphere Region, the granite monolith of the Stawamus Chief looms to the left, the heavily glaciated peaks of the Tantalus Range to the right, and between them only air — 78 per cent nitrogen, 21 per cent oxygen, 0.9 per cent argon and the rest traces of neon, water vapor, methane and carbon dioxide. That such minuscule amounts of the latter two have such an outsized effect on climate makes my mission all the more interesting.

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Ahead is a small, fenced-in area containing a low, corrugated-roof building, a few small towers, a giant fan and plenty of piping. Several hundred metres from this unassuming bricolage stands a more colourful, expansive and modern building whose infrastructure identifies it as a much enlarged and improved version of the first building. From a modest pilot plant to showy innovation centre, the dichotomy represents the evolution of Carbon Engineering. 

Carbon Engineering was founded in 2009 by Harvard professor David Keith, who’d been studying direct air capture while teaching at the University of Calgary, where there was little interest in the idea. Scouring CO2 from ambient air was, at the time, seen as a far-fetched “moonshot” because atmospheric concentrations of the gas are 300 times lower than in the sources typically used for carbon capture. In other words, you’d have to move a lot of air over a long time to capture the equivalent of what an industrial flue stream might deliver in a heartbeat; it would take big infrastructure, big energy and big money. Indeed, when direct air capture was first proposed in the 1990s, the economics looked bleak enough that it was largely ignored. But Keith saw the challenges as surmountable. With $3 million in seed money — largely from Bill Gates and Calgary Flames owner Murray Edwards — Keith acquired a small, mothballed chemical plant on the Squamish shore. With a proof-of-concept mission to develop and commercialize affordable and scalable carbon-removal tech, Carbon Engineering captured its first CO2 in 2015 and produced its first clean fuel in 2017. I’m about to find out what this means.

Guetre has invited me for a walkaround, but before we don hard-hats and safety vests, we settle into an air-conditioned boardroom for more math. She brandishes a chart of carbon-reduction costs based on available solutions for power, transport, heavy industry, buildings and agriculture, as well as heat-intensive sectors of the economy, such as concrete and steel, that can’t cut all emissions. Direct air capture “isn’t included in the solutions,” she says. “But it’s the missing piece for three reasons: cost of abatement rises steeply at larger emission volumes, global emissions continue to rise, and none of this considers legacy carbon.” 

Direct air capture clearly addresses all three: it’s cheaper than alternatives, almost infinitely scalable and can capture emissions from any point in time. “In the near term, if we can capture five to 10 Gt per year, the cost would be around $300 per tonne; but if we get that down to $100, the cost of achieving net-zero could drop from eight per cent of global GDP to half that — saving trillions of dollars,” she says.

Touring the facilities, I see how Carbon Engineering’s years of work have paid off and why it’s enjoying success on the edge of an exciting frontier. Clever chemistry and off-the-shelf equipment used in other industrial sectors played a part, as well as Keith’s insistence on publishing an open, detailed, techno-economic analysis of the process in a scientific journal, which, in a much simplified version, goes like this: giant fans spin ambient air through a contactor where CO2 is captured in a chemical reaction to produce potassium carbonate, which is sent to a reactor where the carbon is transferred into calcium carbonate pellets; these go to a final unit where exposure to high heat strips off pure CO2. All reactions involve closed-loop systems in which each compound is reconstituted and used again. The use of non-toxic, non-volatile chemicals reduces the risks of scale-up, and makes it possible to locate plants anywhere, taking advantage of low-cost renewable energy and proximity to sequestration sites, CO2 pipelines or centres of industrial demand.

Carbon capture remains a poorly understood  “tall poppy” whose shortcomings seem endlessly dissected, failures inordinately cheered, and vast potential hobbled by the need to fund and monetize it.

Circling the seaward side of the innovation centre, we’re buffeted by the town’s famous inflow winds (Squamish, a ham-fisted anglicization of Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, the local First Nation, actually means “mother of the wind”). And this is where it all hits — the enormity of the undertaking, the hubris, inventiveness and entrepreneurial spirit of humans, and the fact that this sophisticated jumble of hardware before me is pulling demon CO2 from thin air 24/7. 

Carbon Engineering’s first large-scale commercial plant, being developed in west Texas with American partner 1PointFive, is expected to capture one megatonne per year when completed next year. “Our business model is to license tech to partners who can enable rapid and widespread deployment. So we’d like this first plant to demonstrate how mega-tonne-scale DAC (direct air capture) is feasible, affordable and available,” says Guetre of Carbon Engineering’s vision of fleets of direct air capture facilities working alongside renewable electricity, energy efficiency and other innovations in all sectors to tackle the climate crisis.

1PointFive looks to deploy a range of decarbonization solutions that include Carbon Engineering’s direct air capture and air-to-fuels tech, together with geologic sequestration hubs. Carbon Engineering and 1PointFive also recently got a boost from President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act. Set to turbocharge clean energy in the U.S., the act contains credits for carbon capture and for speed of implementation. Have we finally reached the point where when wind blows, money flows?

Perhaps — but mostly if the CO2 in that wind is used to extract more oil.

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The oil dilemma 

“If you’re going to capture carbon and turn it into oil then burn it again, is that really a solution to climate change?”

Sven Biggs, Canadian oil and gas program director for B.C.-based NGO Stand.earth, poses this rhetorical question when our conversation turns to “enhanced oil recovery,” often referred to by the abbreviation EOR, a form of carbon capture that has been used for decades.

To enhance the oil recovery from aging wells, pressurized CO2 is pumped into them to push out the remaining oil, then recaptured and stored. Oil companies figured out how to do this back in the 1960s, but these days it’s divisive. Critics say that even though the technique can be carbon neutral on the extraction end, it helps sustain an industry intent on continuing to extract fossil fuels that will ultimately be combusted, undermining broader climate and environmental goals. But the hope is that by providing a profitable business path, enhanced oil recovery will also help scale up technology to capture CO2 directly from the air while driving down costs.

The U.S. Inflation Reduction Act makes no bones about carbon capture techniques that include enhanced oil recovery, but current Canadian policy prohibits money budgeted for carbon capture from directly funding the technique — a distinction critical to parliamentary support. “I don’t think we’re categorically against [carbon capture being used in things like hydrogen production], but we don’t want the carbon capture to involve enhanced oil recovery,” says NDP natural resources critic Richard Cannings. “That would be really extending the life of an industry we know that we have to move away from.”

Resource developers in Saskatchewan, for one, think Ottawa is missing out. “EOR generates revenue and maintains jobs,” says Cory Hughes, assistant deputy minister of the resource development division at the Saskatchewan Ministry of Energy and Resources. “We’ve been a leader in it for a while and want to continue.”

At the Weyburn oil unit in southeast Saskatchewan, Whitecap Resources buys captured CO2 piped in from a power station in Estevan and a synthetic fuel plant in North Dakota. CO2 is injected into the oil field, residual oil and gas is recovered at the surface, and then any extra CO2 is reinjected, permanently storing an average of 1.7 Mt per year — over 36 Mt since operations began in 2000.

Carbon capture in Saskatchewan reflects much of what’s occurring in North America’s heartlands. With the biggest barrier to carbon capture still upfront costs, Hughes says his government has moved swiftly to ensure a favourable investment climate. The province recently announced intentions to be Canada’s most competitive jurisdiction for carbon capture, anticipating projects that will attract north of $2 billion. “For instance, we’re also looking at a range of industrial facilities in the Regina-Moose Jaw corridor — potash-solution mines, refineries, ethanol plants — funnelling their captured CO2 to a central hub,” says Hughes. 

This is where it all hits — the enormity of the undertaking, the hubris, inventiveness and entrepreneurial spirit of humans, and the fact that this sophisticated jumble of hardware os pulling CO2 from thin air 24/7.

This type of hub-and-spoke model delivers efficiencies in scalability and helps to lower costs, whether the captured CO2 is being used or stored. 1PointFive has plans to do this in several U.S. locations, and the Alberta Carbon Trunk Line, a pipeline that transports CO2 from industrial sources to declining oil fields, will similarly have a role in sequestration. The U.S. Department of Energy’s comprehensive carbon capture atlas estimates these two Canadian provinces alone, with their abundant deep-saline formations, harbour about nine per cent of North America’s total onshore storage capacity.

But enhanced oil recovery isn’t the only controversial use of captured CO2. There’s also hydrogen.

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How clean is clean?

Last August, in the kind of show that only politics — and an ongoing war in Ukraine — can engender, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz signed a declaration of intent on Canadian hydrogen exports that could bolster European energy security should — as is hoped and predicted — hydrogen become the fuel of the future. They did so in Stephenville, N.L., where World Energy GH2 looks to build a wind-powered, zero-emission plant to produce clean hydrogen. Before the ink was dry, however, rumours rippled of disagreement over a question that could define hydrogen’s future in the global economy: what counts as “clean”?

Germany staunchly believes that only green hydrogen — produced using renewable energy like wind or solar — is a true climate solution. Canada supports a broader definition that includes blue hydrogen, made from natural gas, with carbon capture stopping most — but not all — emissions. Remember Quest? We’re back in those weeds. 

While blue hydrogen is currently cheapest to produce, the International Energy Agency expects the cost of green hydrogen to best that within the decade. So, betting all your money on blue in the global-energy roulette wheel would pay off only if the cost of renewable energy stays higher than the cost of natural gas. Climate stakes being what they are, this may be problematic — as may be distant European markets that require investment in specialized export terminals, ships and other infrastructure that will drive up costs, create polluting emissions and result in stranded assets if renewable energy becomes dominant.

Government’s counter? Repurpose liquefied natural gas terminals as hubs for hydrogen export. But Canada doesn’t yet have LNG export terminals to convert in the event hydrogen does become a commodity fuel, and the claim appears unrealistic given the two molecules have different requirements for compression and liquification. In fact, Paul Martin, engineer and founder of the Hydrogen Science Coalition, pours cold water on the concept. “It’s so factually incorrect that it kind of drives you crazy to hear people say it,” he told Canada’s National Observer this past August. 

Meanwhile, Quest has now stored 6 Mt of carbon in six-and-a-half years of operation — faster and more cheaply than expected. Did it deserve to be criticized over its rate of CO2 capture back in 2020? Maybe not. As one of the first facilities of its kind, Shell viewed Quest as a demonstration project never meant to capture more than a third of emissions from the steam methane reforming method of hydrogen manufacture it uses. But with the range of capture for this method scientifically established at 53 to 90 per cent, industry touted the upper limit whenever it could. Because Shell wasn’t transparent about Quest, it got caught in the crossfire. The company is now planning a larger project at Scotford called Polaris, projected to meet the above-90 per cent capture levels for blue hydrogen production that current tech allows. 

Not to be outdone, Air Products’ net-zero hydrogen energy complex in Edmonton, slated to come onstream in 2024, will produce blue hydrogen via a different method — auto-thermal reforming. With a simpler production stream and higher concentration of CO2, 95 per cent of the carbon can be captured. The design also incorporates hydrogen-fuelled power generation, reducing CO2 intensity to a level close to zero.

Oh, but hold my beer, say researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who recently developed an even more basic and far-less-energy-intensive process involving aluminum nanoparticles that strip oxygen from water molecules and leave only hydrogen. The method works with any kind of water, at room temperature, and can use discarded aluminum cans and foil.

What does this all mean? It means we’re in a technological Wild West, and the frontier is moving fast.

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The cutting edge

Every frontier comes with a cast of entrepreneurs, and carbon capture is no different.

Mechanical carbon capture of any kind basically requires an absorber reactive with CO2 to capture it from air or exhaust, plus a stripper that removes pure CO2 and pipes it off. What happens in-between may represent the proverbial billion-dollar idea. Among the many companies vying for that prize is Vancouver-based Svante — named for Nobel Laureate Svante Arrhenius, one of the first scientists to identify the connection between atmospheric carbon and climate. Svante’s proprietary second- generation carbon-capture technology, tailored to separate CO2 from nitrogen in diluted flue gas from the manufacture of cement, steel, aluminum, fertilizer and hydrogen, uses nano-material adsorbents with incredibly high storage capacity for CO2. 

“A sugar-cube-sized quantity has the surface area of a football field. Not only does it catch and release the CO2 within a single unit, but it does it in under a minute compared to hours for other technologies,” co-founder Brett Henkel said during a 2021 presentation to Protect Our Winters Canada. “So you need a much smaller inventory of adsorbent relative to traditional liquid technology, and a single Svante plant capturing 3,000 tonnes each day would capture 1 Mt per year.”

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Svante conservatively estimates global capacity for 10,000 such plants, a level at which its customers could capture about 10 Gt per year. Svante and Husky Energy have operated a demonstration plant in Saskatchewan since 2018, with the 30 tonnes a day of captured CO2 used to enhance oil recovery.

Lafarge Canada, a cement company that has a demonstration project with Svante in Richmond, B.C., now also sells a range of sustainable concrete for high-performance building and circular construction and recycling practices. The concrete generates anywhere from 30 to 100 per cent fewer carbon emissions than standard concrete, showing how material choices can be a route to meaningful reductions.

Elsewhere lurk other eye-openers: in his CarbMin Lab at the University of British Columbia, for example, Greg Dipple is perfecting a method for using ultramafic rock — highly reactive to CO2 — to scrub the gas from the air and turn it into rock. In particular, he’s investigating how mine tailings might achieve this. “We research how to accelerate carbon mineralization, determine where to apply it most effectively and develop the technology to implement it,” he summarizes in a YouTube presentation. 

Like Guetre, Dipple says that not only do we need to reduce current emissions to net zero, but dig into the excess CO2 already in the atmosphere. In a real-time experiment, you can watch as the air in a small chamber set on ultramafic mine tailings drops from 400 ppm CO2 to 300 ppm in two minutes, then continues downward to 230 ppm within four minutes — an instantaneous reduction of CO2 of about 40 per cent. “The CO2 is absorbed by the tailings and converted into a solid carbonate mineral, safely trapped and stored. … Some mines with ultramafic tailings are already offsetting 10 to 15 per cent of their emissions through carbon mineralization,” says Dipple. “This is a scalable idea, and it’s already happening.”

Past, present, future

In September, the Pembina Institute, an energy think-tank, released a report on the gap between Canadian oilsands companies’ climate pledges and actions. It wasn’t flattering. Despite free cash flow in Canadian oil and gas companies of an estimated $152 billion in 2022, the highest profits ever, none of it appears destined for climate action touted by the Pathways Alliance, an industry group representing 95 per cent of oilsands production that last year announced a three-phase plan to get their operations to net-zero emissions by 2050. Since then, no significant decarbonization investment decisions have been made by members, a situation Pembina finds worrisome.

Weeks before the report, I’d spoken with senior author Jan Gorski, director of Pembina’s oil and gas program, about Canada’s carbon-capture capacity and challenges. The report’s press release parsed the sentiments he’d expressed to me. “It is time for the oilsands companies to turn their words into actions,” he said. “Our research shows [they] have all the funds and technology at their disposal to get started now. Those that make rapid and deep cuts to their emissions will be best placed to compete in a near future where governments and consumers will have increasingly high expectations about the emissions present in every supply chain.”

During a recent Twitter Live event, when asked whether there was a drop-dead date for the Pathways Alliance to invest in carbon capture, Gorski said, “Hard to say if there’s a specific date, but this is the decade in which action must take place…. If you work backward on the CCUS thing there isn’t a significant amount of time. But we need to see the details of those projects, their proposed timelines and the investment in the next couple of years.” He noted the significant movement on this from other industrial sectors and the expected competition for a knowledgeable workforce. “There’s an advantage to being a first mover.” 

In late September 2022, federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault signalled the government’s own expectation that oilsands companies show their stated commitment to climate action by investing some of their record profits in emissions reduction and decarbonization plans. But while Big Oil mulls proposed carbon-capture tax credits with money-making in mind, critics look for a strategy to manage the industry’s decline. In January 2022, over 400 academics signed a letter calling on government to scrap the credit idea, arguing it’s a de facto subsidy that will shunt more taxpayer money into industry pockets — despite Canada’s stated commitment to phase these out. When I ask Sven Biggs whether Canada’s approach to carbon capture sits on the spectrum at good, bad or its usual mediocre middle, he stops me immediately. “Let’s first address the question of what the most appropriate use is for the tech,” he says. “This projection from industry that CCUS can be a silver bullet to make them carbon neutral skips right past that. You don’t have to scratch too deep to see this just isn’t true, yet they continue to push this narrative to justify continued extraction. The cleanest and safest way to reduce emissions is still to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.”

Others aren’t as diplomatic. Despite its potential, carbon capture has been labelled a “scam” by many North American climate thinkers — including Green Party MP Elizabeth May. Even Carbon Engineering founder David Keith has expressed dismay with this trajectory. “This topic is becoming so visible and so many people are pouring in, and a lot of it is just nonsense,” he told the MIT Technology Review in 2021, referencing confusing discourse from industry that distracts from available cost-effective actions needed to cut emissions.

In the end, potential problems with carbon capture may be eclipsed by its promise and by policy. While squaring a circle has proved mathematically impossible, using a range of effective carbon-capture technologies in the right places, and at the right scale, to support a global net-zero economy could be only an order of magnitude away. “The playing field tipped in 2018 when the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] said we can’t avoid 1.5 C of warming just by reducing emissions, that we’d have to sequester carbon as well,” says Lori Guetre. “So it’s all hands on deck now.”

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January/February 2022

This story is from the January/February 2022 Issue

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