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Carbon Capture Has To Get As Big As Oil Industry In Less Than 30 Years

The nascent industry that captures and stores carbon dioxide has to scale to the size of the oil industry much faster than oil did, the head of a CCS think tank said last week.

“We have an uncomfortable reality, quite frankly,” said Brad Page, head of the Global CCS Institute. “It’s very hard to get away from needing carbon capture and storage both to avoid emissions and also to be a significant part of carbon dioxide removal (CDR).”

“CDR alone is going to require an industry at least the size of the current oil and gas industry,” he said in a seminar hosted by the Stanford Precourt Institute for Energy, “but operating in reverse. And it’s worth remembering that (oil) industry has been built over more than 50-100 years in many countries. This is no small challenge.”

This process has to become an industry as massive as the oil industry in a very short time, according to the director of the Global CCS Institute.The oil industry moves about 5 gigatons of oil and gas per year. That’s not the weight of the carbon dioxide it emits, but the weight of the oil and gas it moves. To meet climate goals, the world has to remove at least that weight of carbon dioxide—5 to 10 gigatons—from the atmosphere each year, Page said.

That’s about 5 times the weight of the material produced annually by the global plastics industry.

While there are many initiatives underway to reduce emissions—switching to clean energy, electrified transportation, and a plant-based diet—some human activities will need carbon capture for the foreseeable future, Page said, in order to be emissions free.

“We have hard-to-decarbonize sectors,” he said, “and these generally need carbon capture and storage to address their emissions: steel, chemicals, cement, fertilizers and plastics as a range of examples, but again, it’s not the whole list.”

The Global CCS Institute is an international think tank seeking to accelerate the deployment of carbon capture and storage. It knows of 26 operating CCS facilities and 40 more that are either in development or suspended.

Were all 66 operating, Page said, they would collectively capture and store 102 megatons of carbon dioxide per year. Capacity may have to increase 1oo-fold by 2050, Page said.

“To achieve climate goals requires, among many other things, at least the premature retirement of existing facilities, and at an enormous scale, or many many gigatons of annual abatement of carbon capture and storage on those facilities. Or most likely, a combination of the two.”

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