The world’s largest rainforest is emitting about one million tons of carbon dioxide ( CO2) a year. The conclusion comes from a study published in the journal Nature, according to which the Amazon, the main responsible for absorbing a quarter of all fossil fuel emissions since 1960, has lost — with the fires that devastated it —, its ability to capture CO2 and became itself a carbon emitter into the atmosphere.
Trees, soils, and oceans store carbon dioxide, but human activity produces five times more than nature can support. Now, without the Amazon, the situation will worsen.
To stabilize the climate by 2050 the world will have to do more than just stop greenhouse gas emissions: we need to consume CO2.
The technology to capture carbon dioxide emissions is not new. We see it being implemented in industrial chimneys with chemical filters. But the question is: what is done with the captured carbon? CO2 can be used directly for enhanced oil recovery. One of the chemical conversions with the biggest potential is combining CO2 with hydrogen to make synthetic hydrocarbon fuels. But the thing is: if captured CO2 is used to make synthetic fuels, the fuels are then burned, and it is released back into the atmosphere. It’s carbon recycling, not carbon sequestration.
Another solution used is to pump CO2 emissions underground and store it in depleted oil reservoirs or porous rock formations, preventing carbon dioxide from reaching the atmosphere. An idea that, despite being scientifically validated, has not yet convinced many countries that fear leaks.
What is certain is that more than 77 million tons of carbon dioxide were captured around the world in 2020 and, by some estimates, it’s a potentially $1 trillion market by 2030. That is why there are companies that are adapting the technology to capture CO2 and use it in several products such as soft drinks or concrete. Yes, you red right, in concrete. The CarbonCure company has permanently stored more than 90,000 tons of carbon dioxide captured in concrete; Unilever launched the first laundry capsule made from industrial carbon emissions; and Valser, a subsidiary of Coca-Cola, is testing the world’s first bottled water with carbon dioxide captured directly from the air.
This combination — known as carbon capture and utilization (CCU) — could consume billions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions if the technologies are adopted in a range of sectors.
Of course, we can and should be skeptical about this idea of consumption. After all, we are talking about CO2.
Therefore, you need to understand that products made with captured carbon dioxide are subject to the same safety regulations as traditional materials used in food and products. This includes filtering unwanted pollutants from flue gases before using carbon dioxide in refrigerants or plastics. When carbon dioxide is used as a raw material, it becomes chemically stable, meaning that when used to create plastic, for example, it will not turn into a gas on its own.
CCUS technology could not just decarbonising single sites, but capturing and storing CO2 from entire industries and regions. There is still a way to go to meet that ambition, but it is clear the resources and knowledge necessary to get there are ready to be utilised.