From Big Oil to Big Tech, companies are rushing into a new kind of business that they believe will allow their industry to survive in the new zero-rate economy: carbon capture.
So-called carbon capture initiatives typically involve actively removing carbon dioxide from the air or cleaning the heat-trapping greenhouse gas from emissions from factories and power plants. While the technology has been used for decades by oil makers to pump more oil, it is only in recent years that other industries have started to embrace the technology as a means to combat change. climate.
With the oil market still fragile after stocks hit historic highs at the start of the pandemic, carbon capture has become a major draw for the fossil fuel titans as they strive to stay afloat in a new green economy.
Darren Woods, chief executive officer of ExxonMobil, told investors in March that the company expects the carbon capture market to grow 35% each year, reaching $ 2 trillion by 2040. The company this week proposed a $ 100 billion carbon capture center with estimates that would capture and store around 50 million metric tonnes of carbon per year by 2030 and possibly 100 million metric tonnes by 2040.
ExxonMobil is urging President Joe Biden to introduce tax breaks and a carbon price that will help create a market for the company’s new carbon capture activity.
BP plans to capture up to 10 million tonnes of carbon each year through its carbon capture project in North East England called Net Zero Teesside.
“The CCUS (carbon capture, use and storage) technology is ready for deployment now,” Joshua Hicks, a spokesperson for BP, told NBC News in an emailed statement. “We will continue to work with governments and businesses to create the business models essential to scale up the deployment of carbon capture.”
Microsoft is exploring carbon capture as part of a negative emissions project at a biomass plant in Denmark, the company announced last month. Tide, owned by Procter & Gamble, is studying carbon capture technology as part of its commitment to halve greenhouse gases at its factories by 2030.
LVMH Director Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Antoine Arnault, told investors last week that he would reduce his carbon emissions by 50% by 2026 by using 100% renewable energy and helping to “improve the capacity soil to capture carbon ”.
“It’s an ambitious project, but we have to have a holistic approach,” said Arnault.
Demand for carbon capture technologies has exploded since 2018, when the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report that said the world should take “unprecedented” action to avoid the worst effects. most catastrophic of climate change. The report warned that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100 would require “large-scale deployment of carbon dioxide removal measures.”
It may be necessary to remove up to 10 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year by 2050 to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Climate models suggest that even after the transition to renewables and the adoption of other mitigation measures, it may be necessary to remove up to 10 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year d ‘by 2050 to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
This realization kind of fueled a paradigm shift, said Peter Kelemen, professor of earth and environmental sciences at Columbia University.
“People’s thinking has evolved in terms of assessing the value of mitigation,” he said. “It comes from a lucid assessment of what it takes for global warming to be below 2 degrees C. It is believed that we should spend whatever it takes to keep warming below that level.”
But some scientists and industry watchers argue that without carbon pricing, carbon capture can become too expensive and difficult to scale. According to Guloren Turan, it is estimated that more than 2,000 large-scale carbon capture facilities must be deployed by 2050, requiring hundreds of billions of dollars of investment and a hundredfold increase in the number of capture facilities. and Carbon Storage in Operation Executive Director of Advocacy at the Global CCS Institute, a climate change think tank.
To capture carbon from flue gases, a liquid solvent is used to absorb carbon dioxide. Then the mixture is heated to remove carbon dioxide for storage, which requires staggering energy levels, said Joan Brennecke, professor of chemical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin.
“We have to have a cap and trade system or a carbon tax,” she said. “Companies must be encouraged to invest money in this area.”
At the federal level, Biden is aiming to cut the country’s greenhouse gas emissions in half, from 2005 levels, by 2030. To achieve that goal, the administration announced on Thursday a new international funding plan. climate change that would encourage the private sector to contribute to climate solutions across the country and in developing countries.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Thursday the agency requested $ 1.2 billion from the administration for the green climate fund to boost private investment and $ 485 million to fund initiatives multilateral climate policy.
“We need to make sure that the funding will be there, both public and private, to respond to the moment on climate change, and to help us seize the opportunity for good jobs, strong economies and a better world. sure, ”Biden said Thursday.
It remains to be seen whether a cleaner energy policy at the national and federal levels will be enough to decarbonize the grid by 2035, said Adam Wilson, US renewable energy analyst at S&P Global Market Intelligence.
“Current market forces will take the industry a long way towards a clean energy sector,” he said. “But it will likely take breakthroughs in emerging technologies to get to the finish line.”
Leticia Miranda is an economics reporter for NBC News.
Denise Chow is a reporter for NBC News Science and focuses on general science and climate change.