Since the industrial revolution, people have been putting greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere at an unprecedented rate. In addition to causing illness and death, these GHGs are linked to warming temperatures which negatively affect environments around the world. Carbon dioxide is one of the most damaging greenhouse gases emitted by fossil fuel-powered industries.
As awareness of environmental issues has grown, scientists and policymakers have looked for a solution to reduce the high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In response to this challenge, engineers have developed strategies for carbon capture and storage (CCS). The UK is one of many national entities exploring how CCS could improve environmental health.
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Scientists and environmentalists agree that the most important step for reducing CO2 in the air is to stop producing it. Regardless of how effective clean-up methods may be, it’s much easier to stop atmospheric pollution at the source. However, shutting down most major industries isn’t a practical option right now.
Realistically, the transition away from fossil fuels will be a slow and steady process. The faster companies can create new solutions for industry problems, the faster this transition will be. Eliminating greenhouse gas production right now would require a massive societal shift that would make modern life impossible.
Many engineers and scientists are working to find renewable sources of energy that can replace fossil fuels. However, others are working on solutions for cleaning as much existing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as they can. Until companies stop producing CO2, scrubbing it from the atmosphere will help contribute to a cooler, healthier world.
In addition to harming the environment, air pollution from fossil fuels and other industrial materials can cause massive health problems. The American Environmental Protection Agency has responded to this threat by posing the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge. As awareness of air pollution grows, more companies will begin to value carbon capture technologies.
Carbon capture plants pull carbon dioxide directly out of the air through a fan and collection system. The captured carbon is then either stored underground or resold as a product to help the company turn a profit. Recycled CO2 has been turned into fizzy drinks, used in greenhouses as fertilizer and even added to concrete to create eco-friendly construction materials.
In the UK, the East Coast Cluster is working on CCS facilities in the north of England that could cut approximately 27 million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere by 2030. Plans are also ongoing for a carbon capture project on the east coast of Scotland. These facilities are intended to reduce the impact of local factories and industrial plants on the environment.
CO2 can also be trapped through natural means. Plant matter and some ecosystems pull carbon dioxide from the air and trap it in the ground or other natural materials. In 2021, UK Research and Innovation committed £30 million pounds to research the impact of different natural materials on carbon capture.
This massive project will be measuring the effects of peatland, enhanced rock weathering, biochar, afforestation, and bioenergy crops on carbon capture. Although natural means of CCS can’t pull excessive amounts of CO2 out of the air, every ounce captured helps. Natural CCS also takes very little energy to sustain and often brings additional environmental benefits.
Natural ecosystems operate on a balance, reabsorbing the amount of carbon dioxide they create. Unfortunately, modern industry has upset this balance and released excessive amounts of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These gases are contributing to global health problems and environmental damage.
Fortunately, engineers are working on new technologies that can remove excess CO2 from the atmosphere. In the UK, companies are building carbon capture and storage plants to mitigate industrial emissions. Scientists are also experimenting with natural forms of carbon capture, including peatland cultivation and buried biochar.
Although carbon capture and storage can help reduce CO2 in the atmosphere, these strategies are not a solution on their own. Engineers and environmentalists must continue to pursue new forms of energy that can replace fossil fuels as the foundation of modern industry. Together, energy innovation and CCS can make a real difference in air quality and environmental health around the world.
By Shannon Flynn