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Carbon Capture: The Vacuum the Climate May Depend On


The most recent report by the world’s top climate scientists was alarmingly clear: If we are to avoid the most calamitous consequences of warming our planet, we must get as good at taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as we’ve been at putting it in. Even if solar panels and wind turbines sprout like mushrooms, reaching “net-zero” is going to require capturing large amounts of emissions from activities that are hard to decarbonize, like making cement. Holding temperatures down will also require vacuuming huge amounts of carbon out of the air. The challenge is that current technology for both these tasks is a long, long way from being able to reach these goals.

In a projection by the International Energy Agency (IEA) of a pathway to net-zero emissions by 2050, about 7.6 billion metric tons (or gigatons) would still need to be eliminated annually, a figure equal to about a fifth of current emissions. And depending on how quickly net-zero is reached, limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above mid-19th century levels could mean removing anywhere between 100 billion tons of carbon and 1 trillion tons by 2100. That last figure would mean sucking up all the carbon that has been emitted this century, and then some.