When politics disappoints, technology walks in. So when some scientists warned that the proposed emission cuts under the Paris climate deal would fall short of the 20 target (NASA climate scientist James Hansen called it a “fraud”), many people began arguing that it would be impossible to avert a climate calamity without the help of technological fixes such as plucking carbon from the air and locking it away in places where they would stay, presumably, for centuries.
Later this year, a Swiss company called Climaworks will commission the world’s first commercial plant near Zurich that will tap carbon dioxide directly from air and pipe it to a greenhouse as fuel for veggies. But the trouble is trapping carbon from open air doesn’t come cheap. Even after scaling it up, it is estimated, it would cost US $600 per tonne of CO2, which is even more expensive than capturing it in industrial facilities like coal-fired power plants, where carbon is three times denser. The only advantage of this new open climate surgery is that you can do it anywhere. Besides, you don’t have to incur the expense and risk of storing it in a vault.
Carbon capture and storage, or CCS as it is commonly referred to, has been in the eye of the storm ever since the Norwegian oil and gas company Statoil broached the idea in the early 1990s. It continues to be plagued by ballooning costs and lack of international support. While some projects are under construction, there is only one, in Canada, that is run on a commercial scale, again not without hiccups.