By Robert Macrae
The federal budget allocates $2.6 billion to carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS).
CCUS includes carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), atmospheric decarbonization, and capturing atmospheric carbon dioxide for profitable uses.
CCS was a public relations creation promising the guiltless pleasure of continued fossil fuel use by reducing fossil fuels’ contribution to the climate crisis. It requires separating, liquefying, and pumping into very deep holes carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion. Studies show CCS is technically complex, incredibly expensive, and voraciously energy intensive. Nonetheless, oil and gas continues preaching false hope, green wash, suggesting fossil fuels can be clean.
CCS will never be widely adopted because coal is no longer the lowest-cost option for generating electricity. A 2018 World Economic Forum report says the cost of generating electricity using solar or wind energy is less than half the price of electricity from coal. The levelized cost of a unit of electricity from solar power is $50, from wind: $45, and from coal: $102. Since the sun and wind are cheaper and cleaner than coal, further investment in CCS is pointless. However, grants to utilities to switch from coal to wind, solar or other renewables would be wise investments financially and environmentally.
Atmospheric decarbonization mitigates the climate crisis by intentionally removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Atmospheric decarbonization is what photosynthetic bacteria, algae, and plants do naturally. Science has yet to develop a technology equal in efficiency and lower in cost than photosynthesis.
Photosynthesis is our best hope for combining atmospheric decarbonization with profitable carbon utilization.
A study from the late 1990s showed that a forest five times the size of British Columbia with mature coastal Douglas fir trees would be required to assimilate all carbon dioxide emitted annually from global fossil fuel combustion at the time of the study. Since then, fossil fuel emissions have increased while old growth forests have declined. Planting five BCs of mature forests is improbable. Protecting and expanding forests, particularly old growth forests, is essential, but won’t solve the climate crisis.
Algae and cyanobacteria can photosynthesize faster than mature forests. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) allow kelp algal forests to thrive on the ocean floor where they capture and sequester carbon efficiently. Designating 30 per cent of the earth’s oceans as MPAs by 2030 will help decarbonize the atmosphere. Canada, under the Liberals, is on track creating MPAs.
Restorative agricultural practices that return organic matter to the soil as the soil is being farmed would aid atmospheric decarbonization.
Cultivating photosynthetic algae in constructed ponds and using the algae as food for humans or livestock, as a soil amendment, and as a feedstock for biodiesel synthesis could drawdown atmospheric carbon cost-effectively.
It remains uncertain how the Liberals will spend the $2.6 billion.
What is certain is unless it is invested in cost-effective atmospheric decarbonization rather than life-support for the fossil fuel industry, it will be wasted.