As part of his effort to fight climate change, last week Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced on Twitter that he was donating $100 million towards a prize for best carbon capture technology. The announcement was met with mixed reactions. While some said it is a step in the right direction, some environmentalists are saying that carbon capture uses a considerable amount of energy (between 25–40 percent, others 30–60 percent) and could almost double the cost of electricity.
Carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS), also referred to as carbon capture, utilization and sequestration, is a process that captures carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from sources like coal-fired power plants and either reuses or stores it so it will not enter the atmosphere. Capturing CO2 broadly involves the direct removal of CO2 from flue gas streams through post-combustion techniques or the adoption of low carbon-intensive pre-combustion techniques.
Yes, carbon capture is polarizing, but climate change is not waiting for us to resolve our political differences. Elon’s $100M donation to carbon capture technology underscores the importance of removing the trillion tons of carbon that is already in our atmosphere. However, the one thing missing from Elon’s competition is that the focus must be on permanence, scalability, and financeability – the three pillars of what experts call climate restoration.
Permanence: The carbon capture technologies we deploy must permanently remove the atmospheric CO2 that is warming our planet. This is the only way to return our atmosphere to safe, pre-industrial levels of CO2.
Scalability: We need to implement these technologies at scale, because we have a trillion tons of excess CO2 in our atmosphere, and this legacy carbon – and not present-day emissions – is the main driver of global warming.
Financeability: We need to cultivate a commercial market for carbon capture. We already have commercially viable options, like Carbon8 Systems and Blue Planet Ltd, which sequester carbon in limestone and concrete, making carbon-negative concrete. (And concrete is the second most-consumed product in the world after water.)
As momentum builds behind carbon capture efforts, we must focus on these three pillars of climate restoration. Committing to these will help resolve political divisions and will ensure a habitable planet for future generations.
Climate restoration is the safe and permanent removal of the trillion tons of CO2 from our atmosphere. It includes both natural solutions and technology that is scalable, financeable, and permanent (more information in my previous email).
The main driver of climate change is not present-day emissions, but the trillion tons of atmospheric CO2 that have been accumulating since the Industrial Revolution. Therefore, mitigation and adaptation address only 5% of the problem, and the only way to meaningfully combat climate change is through climate restoration, the safe and permanent removal of this “legacy CO2.”
The Foundation for Climate Restoration (F4CR), the nonprofit dedicated to restoring the climate to ensure a habitable planet for future generations, likes to think of it as a bathtub overflowing. We need to “turn off the tap” by ending carbon emissions (the 5%), but we also need to address the “flood” of excess atmospheric CO2 that is harming our planet. In order to ensure a habitable planet, we need to “open the drain” and remove the excess CO2.
Luminaries in the climate space are now pushing for climate restoration. Sir David King (former Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Government) co-authored a piece with F4CR’s CEO, Rick Parnell, in the Washington Post that talked about how Stopping climate change could cost less than fighting Covid-19.
And Dean Khagram from Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University recently released a report outlining a $1-3 trillion-dollar market opportunity in climate restoration technologies. All this to say, the climate restoration market is expected to boom in 2021 and beyond.
There are scalable and financeable technologies available today to remove the excess trillion tons of atmospheric CO2 from the atmosphere. A great example of climate restoration technologies is synthetic limestone to make carbon-negative concrete.
Concrete production is a major source of emissions: it’s responsible for 8% of global annual emissions. Climate restoration innovations allow for:
1. CO2 to be injected into concrete during the curing process,
2. reduced quantities of carbon-intensive cement to be used in concrete mixes, and
3. aggregates to be made from atmospheric CO2.
By investing in these technologies, we could remove all the excess CO2 from our atmosphere and restore the safe climate we had before the Industrial Revolution. And we could do that by 2050.