Carbon capture to unlock burnable carbon

A review suggests that if carbon capture and storage technology can be refined, it will enable the world to use more of its unburnable carbon.

The technology to capture and store carbon involves catching harmful carbon dioxide emissions from factories and power stations. The emissions are transported via a network of pipes and trapped inside the microscopic pores of rocks located kilometres underground.

The report shows how it can enable us to continue to use fossil fuels as an important part of the energy mix, while remaining in the 2°C limitations.

The current CCS technology is capable of capturing approximately 85-90% of total carbon dioxide emissions, with the remaining 10-15% of residual emissions emitted into the atmosphere. In a new review, researchers from the Sustainable Gas Institute at Imperial College London argue that if these residual emissions could be reduced to around 1-5%, this would enable the world to unlock much more of its fossil fuel reserves, whilst staying within target limits for global temperatures.

The concept of ‘unburnable’ carbon initially emerged in 2011 and stemmed from observations that if all known fossil fuel reserves are extracted and used, then carbon dioxide emissions would exceed the world’s carbon budget and have a significant negative effect on the global environment.

At the Conference of the Parties in Paris (COP21) meeting the government agreed to limit global warming to less than 2°C; to achieve this a large proportion of fossil fuels would need to remain untouched or unburnable.

Researchers from Imperial have developed models that predict the impact of CCS on the use of fossil fuel resources, assuming the technology continues to improve its capture rates. They calculate that that the CCS technology could enable more of these unburnable fossil fuel resources to be unlocked over this century, while still limiting global warming to 2°C.

Overall, the report is that CCS is an important technology, which needs to be implemented globally alongside alternative low carbon sources such as renewable energy if climate targets are to be met in this century.

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