Big Oil Invests in Carbon Capture Technology
Carbon Engineering has started testing with a pilot plant for its relatively cheap carbon capture technology this year. The Canadian company recently received $68 million in investment from oil giants Chevron, Occidental Petroleum, and BHP.
Founded in 2009, Carbon Engineering has been developing carbon capture technology, which removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Carbon Engineering has projected that its Direct Air Capture technology can capture carbon from the atmosphere for $100 to $150 per ton. This is significantly cheaper than previous carbon capture technologies, which is estimated to cost $600 per ton.
Carbon Engineering’s pilot project in Squamish, Canada, uses fans to suck large amounts of air into a vessel. In the vessel, they expose the air to a chemical solution that concentrates the carbon. This step separates the carbon from the air and produces pure carbon dioxide gas, or calcium oxide. The resulting carbon can be sequestered in the ground or used to produce clean, yet expensive, fuel for cars and airplanes.
However, each ton of carbon captured will barely make a dent in the 37 billion tons of carbon that was produced in 2018. And the estimated $100 per ton for carbon capture is still very expensive compared to the cost of activities that emit similar amounts of carbon dioxide. For example, a single economy class seat from London Heathrow Airport to New York JFK Airport produces one ton of carbon in the atmosphere.
Despite the high costs, many global leaders have adopted global warming projections with the assumption that carbon removal programs would become prevalent in the coming decades. To produce its climate report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change modeled more than a thousand scenarios to find paths to limit global warming. Out of the 116 scenarios that projected a 2C° limit to global warming, 101 relied on negative emissions, where the world would have to remove more carbon from the atmosphere than it emitted in the second half of the 21st century.
Oil companies like Shell have approached climate change in another way. Royal Dutch Shell will spend $300 million dollars over the next year to plant trees in Netherlands and Spain, which would also remove some carbon from the atmosphere.