The Carbon Capture Era

May 27, 2019

What happened?

Earlier this month, Irish startup Silicon Kingdom Holdings announced plans to develop a plant that will capture 100 metric tons of CO2 a day, which will ultimately be scaled to a capacity of 4 million tons of CO2 a year. This follows a series of recent funding in other “direct air capture” technologies, such as Carbon Engineering, which announced in March that it has received an additional $70 million in funding, including investments from major oil and gas companies such as BHP and Chevron. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) involves the capture of CO2 from fuel combustion or industrial processes at the precise moment and place it is emitted. The increasing popularity of CCS technologies is largely attributable to decreasing costs and increasing efficiencies. Research from eight years ago still pointed to problems such as costs ($1.000 per ton CO2 captured) and efficiency (net positive CO2 emissions) due to the use of fossil-based energy sources for CCS processes. However, current research shows that the costs are below $100 per ton CO2 and it achieves significant carbon removal.

What does this mean?

A plethora of reports have stressed the urgency of reducing worldwide CO2 levels. The IPCC has highlighted that achieving the ambitions of the Paris Agreement will require more than just efforts to reduce emissions; it will also require the deployment of technologies to actually remove carbon from the atmosphere. CCS is one of the only technology solutions that can significantly reduce emissions directly at the source of CO2-intensive processes. In the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) sustainable development scenario, CCS accounts for 7% of the cumulative emissions reductions needed by 2040 (other components are 6% nuclear and 34% renewables). 80% of today’s CCS capacity is concentrated in the oil and gas sector, of which 70% is in North America (due to policy support).

What's next?

In order to achieve the IEA’s 7%, society must overcome three hurdles. First, an analysis by the IEA suggests that attracting investments in CCS will require a commercial incentive as low as $40 per ton of CO2. This $40 goal is not yet in sight,considering that currently, only under favorable circumstances (i.e. pure streams of CO2 in normal operation, such as natural gas processing), have the costs been lower than the average of $100 per ton CO2. Second, broader application across industries and continents is necessary. Authorities need to recognize the high potential of CCS in delivering the steep emissions reductions needed across key industrial processes such as steel, cement and chemicals manufacturing, all of which will remain vital business blocks of the modern industrial society. Third, authorities need to develop attractive policy incentives to stimulate future projects that can advance expertise and drive down costs. Given the serious contribution of CCS to cumulative emissions reductions, policy-makers should establish attractive funding to complement commercial investments.

Series 'AI Metaphors'

1. The Tool
Category: Objects
Humans shape tools.

We make them part of our body while we melt their essence with our intentions. They require some finesse to use but they never fool us or trick us. Humans use tools, tools never use humans.

We are the masters determining their course, integrating them gracefully into the minutiae of our everyday lives. Immovable and unyielding, they remain reliant on our guidance, devoid of desire and intent, they remain exactly where we leave them, their functionality unchanging over time.

We retain the ultimate authority, able to discard them at will or, in today's context, simply power them down. Though they may occasionally foster irritation, largely they stand steadfast, loyal allies in our daily toils.

Thus we place our faith in tools, acknowledging that they are mere reflections of our own capabilities. In them, there is no entity to venerate or fault but ourselves, for they are but inert extensions of our own being, inanimate and steadfast, awaiting our command.
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2. The Machine
Category: Objects
Unlike a mere tool, the machine does not need the guidance of our hand, operating autonomously through its intricate network of gears and wheels. It achieves feats of motion that surpass the wildest human imaginations, harboring a power reminiscent of a cavalry of horses. Though it demands maintenance to replace broken parts and fix malfunctions, it mostly acts independently, allowing us to retreat and become mere observers to its diligent performance. We interact with it through buttons and handles, guiding its operations with minor adjustments and feedback as it works tirelessly. Embodying relentless purpose, laboring in a cycle of infinite repetition, the machine is a testament to human ingenuity manifested in metal and motion.
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