Painful Truth: Carbon capture a hopeful story

A firm with a pilot project in Squamish is showing the way to decarbonizing the planet.

How much would you pay to stop global climate change in its tracks?

That’s been the question, and for too many years, the answer has been “not what it would actually cost.”

Decades ago, when the overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming was reached, solar power was cruddy, wind wasn’t much better, batteries were big and bulky and expensive, and progress was slow.

Change has come swiftly to all the factors listed above, which has given new hopes that maybe, just maybe, simple economics would win out. After all, if you can make solar-plus-battery-storage cheaper than coal fired power plants, you just have to sit back and let the invisible hand of the market swat away the polluters.

But the other problem was always that there was an awful lot of extra CO2 already in the atmosphere, and getting it out meant doing things like laboriously planting trees, or (very expensively) pumping carbon dioxide into underground storage of some kind.

Now a new experiment – running right here in B.C., in quiet little Squamish! – has showed that direct air capture of CO2 might be cheaper than we thought.

A study just seven years ago suggested it would cost about $600 per tonne to capture CO2. Not a price to inspire everyone to jump on board.

But Canada-based Carbon Engineering says they can do it for between $94 and $232 a tonne.

They deliberately built their technique using entirely off the shelf parts, as it were. The technology all comes from the pulp and paper mill industry, or the oil refinery industry. It can even turn the captured carbon right back into fuel, which is now “carbon neutral” since it was never pumped out of the ground to begin with.

At a price point of $100 per tonne, offsetting every ounce of carbon spewed out by a car would cost about ¢22 per litre of gas. Which is a lot. But the price of gas has fluctuated by more than that just in the last couple of years, and we’re still going.

But it’s the future that’s hopeful.

Just as with solar and wind, technologies tend to improve. They can scale up, they find efficiencies of scale, they tinker with the process and bring the cost down, dollar by dollar.

If we provide some funding and tax breaks for this industry now, it could pay off big down the road.

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