Climate models suggest that keeping to within a 2° future will require us to remove excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. A common prediction is that we will need to be removing ten billion tons (gigatons) of CO2 per year from the air in 2050 and continue for the foreseeable future. (For scale, the current worldwide oil industry produces about two gigatons of oil per year.) This is a best-case scenario which assumes more or less full electrification of the world’s economy with zero-carbon power sources. We are simply emitting too much carbon dioxide and cannot reduce it in time to meet realistic climate goals.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is looking at the technology challenge of negative emissions. While direct air capture – chemical harvesting of CO2 from the air – receives a lot of attention, other options like capturing CO2 from biofuel production, enhancing soil carbon, recycling CO2 in long-lived products, and using mineral reactions to absorb and permanently trap CO2 promise lower costs. The development pathway for all of the likely approaches involves creating businesses that make money performing the work, and the scale needed suggests that those businesses need to be started now in order to mature in time to have the appropriate growth time. To what extent do we encourage negative emissions methods to replace decarbonization of existing emitters? This complicated policy and technology space will be the next major area of focus for organizations like LLNL and Rand who seek to bring viable climate solutions to governments and businesses.
Roger Aines is the Energy Program Chief Scientist in E Program, which conducts government and private sector research in clean energy technology. He is a Senior Scientist in the Chemistry, Materials, Earth and Life Sciences Directorate at LLNL. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Chemistry from Carleton College, and Doctor of Philosophy in geochemistry from the California Institute of Technology. He has been at LLNL since 1984 working on nuclear waste disposal, environmental remediation, application of stochastic methods to inversion and data fusion, management of carbon emissions including separation technology, and monitoring and verification methods for sequestration.
Roger’s current research includes application of 3-D printing to chemical reactors and gas separations, development of catalysts for carbon dioxide capture, management of pressure in geologic sequestration through brine withdrawal and treatment, and encapsulation of carbon dioxide capture solvents. Roger directs the LLNL program in developing better understanding of hydraulic fracturing and tools and methods around shale gas development.
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