New Science on Carbon Capture Highlights Its Potential

Antarctic “green snow”       Photo: Matt Davey, Grist

New technology developed in Japan provides a much-needed breakthrough for capturing carbon released from a concentrated source like a thermal power plant and “recycling” it to create other gas fuels like methane, methanol, and gasoline.  This new technology represents an important advance because it drastically reduces the amount of energy needed to capture CO2 from gases versus the amount used in conventional carbon capture technology.  Globally, the generation of electricity and heat creates more than 30% of greenhouse gas emissionsAnd scientists from the U.K. have discovered that green algae known as “green snow” on the Antarctic Peninsula are a significant carbon sink for the continent, absorbing approximately 479 tons of carbon a year through photosynthesis.

Why This Matters: Carbon recycling will help reduce global warming by re-using the CO2, which would otherwise be let go into the atmosphere.  And although the Antarctic carbon absorption amount is small when considered on a global scale, it is roughly equivalent to the amount of carbon emitted by 875,000 car trips averaging 10 miles per trip.  The bottom line is that scientific advances are occurring on carbon capture and reuse by industry and through nature-based solutions, both of which will be important to controlling global temperature increases in the future.

Carbon Recycling

Conventional methods today use a high temperature of over 100 C to capture this CO2, which in turn requires a significant amount of energy to heat.  The new technology brings down the cost and makes it potentially scalable. But doesn’t that mean we will still use carbon?  Yes, but not in a way that pollutes, but rather is renewable.  Their vision is that one day, “the entire energy mix is fueled by renewable energy sources, and then all of the hydrocarbon products—consumable plastics, the fuels that you need for long-term energy storage and heating your home in the winter—all of that could be derived from CO2 conversion. And then when that happens, CO2 becomes a way to store renewable energy, in chemical form, over long periods of time, in a stable way. And that’s kind of the goal—to have CO2 be a carrier of energy rather than just being a waste or an emission.”

Green and Red Snow

The Antarctic discovery is important for understanding the way that its fragile ecosystem works, as the temperature there increases, impacting the large sheets of Antarctic ice and the delicate life cycles there.  For example, this research means that the amount of carbon absorbed by algal blooms on Antarctica, which are varied in color from greens, to reds to oranges, causing the snow to take on different colors, may be higher than previously understood.  Scientists have only mapped and calculated the amount absorbed by Antarctica’s green snow so far.


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