scorecardMany companies are looking into carbon dioxide removal to achieve their net zero emission targets. But will it help?
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Many companies are looking into carbon dioxide removal to achieve their net zero emission targets. But will it help?

Many companies are looking into carbon dioxide removal to achieve their net zero emission targets. But will it help?
SustainabilitySustainability3 min read
In order to counteract the near-futility of attempting to reduce global emissions quickly enough to meet our imminent warming targets, many organisations have begun investing in carbon dioxide removal (CDR) techniques to achieve net carbon neutrality.

After all, if we can't prevent water from entering the hole-ridden ship quickly enough, we can at least attempt to purge the water currently drowning the boat and buy us some more time. However, CDR's newfound popularity has also been shrouded in many controversies for various reasons.

The first is that removing carbon from the atmosphere is still highly energy-intensive. This means we still need a massive technological breakthrough and enormous amounts of capital to make the technique actually feasible and scalable.

The second, as outlined in a Nature piece by David T. Ho, is that companies simply use the technology to appear net-zero in their emissions. They may seem sustainable on paper, but given the short window to keep global warming below acceptable levels, we will need more time to get there.

This is how David explains it.

According to studies, the world emitted a gargantuan 40.5 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2022. This equates to about 77,000 tonnes of carbon oozing into the atmosphere every second. This happens 5,25,600 times for each minute in a year.

Now, consider the state-of-the-art Direct Air Capture (DAC) hubs the US is developing to achieve carbon neutrality. Each facility is expected to scoop out one million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere every year.

Therefore, if we consider the 77,000 tonnes of CO2 being dumped into the atmosphere per minute, at peak performance, each facility could only reverse emissions from about 13 of those minutes per year.

This also means we will need about 40,430 similar DAC facilities functioning simultaneously to capture all the carbon dunked into the atmosphere annually. Considering the US spent $3.5 billion dollars into erecting just four, you don't really need to do the math to see how unfeasible the whole ordeal 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 doesn't mean we should give up on CDR either. If we reduce emissions by even 4 billion tonnes of CO2 a year — only a 10% reduction — each plant would give us carbon reductions equivalent to 2 hours apiece instead of the 13 minutes.

Under these new circumstances, we would only need about 4,000 facilities to reach net zero emissions for any given year, if we can make sure that these are powered by renewable sources as well.

Many companies are moving towards such carbon capture technologies to minimise their impact. Microsoft, for example, intends to use algae to remove up to 12,000 tons of carbon equivalent within the next two years. Many other organisations plant trees and factor that into neutralising emissions.

Keeping in mind the fragile state of the environment and the excruciatingly minuscule frame available to make lasting change, how we leverage CDR within the next few years will undoubtedly dictate the future chapters of our battle against climate change.

“The scale of the challenge is immense. We must slow the carbon clock to a crawl before we can turn it back,” David continues.

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