Air travel and carbon capture

2008-03-21

in Economics, The environment, Travel

If carbon capture and storage technology does prove effective and economically viable, it might finally offer a decent answer to the problem of air travel emissions – at least for relatively affluent travelers willing to pay. The trouble with standard offsets is whether emitting X tonnes of carbon and then paying someone who would otherwise have emitted the same amount not to do so really represents equivalence.

CCS offers a more bulletproof answer: grow biomass, burn it in a power plant, bury the carbon dioxide in a saline aquifer or salt dome, and use the energy. Air travelers could pay to have X tonnes worth of carbon literally removed from the air by plants, and for that carbon to subsequently be stored indefinitely.

Other emitting activities – whatever their nature – could be similarly offset given sufficient infrastructure and funding.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

R.K. March 21, 2008 at 9:04 pm

‘Affluent’ is right. A round trip flight from New York to London produces 2.77 tonnes of emissions according to NativeEnergy. A standard estimate for the price of CCS is about $75 a tonne. As such, the cost of offsetting would be a substantial portion of the total.

Also, that price doesn’t take into account the cost of growing and shipping the biomass. On the other hand, selling the power could help address that.

A real economic analysis on this would be helpful.

mek March 22, 2008 at 12:49 am

Won’t this kind of biomass capture create further competition for agricultural space which is already at a premium thanks to food and biofuels (yay ethanol…), raising the global price of food even further? Seems like a pretty terrible idea.

. March 31, 2008 at 10:16 am

30 March 2008

Air Capture

Guest Commentary by Frank Zeman

[This is one of an occasional series on the science of mitigation/adaptation/geo-engineering that we hope to continue. Since this isn’t our core expertise, we’d especially appreciate balanced contributions from other scientists.]

One of the central challenges of controlling anthropogenic climate change is developing technologies that deal with emissions from small, dispersed sources such as automobiles and residential houses. Capturing these emissions is more difficult as they are too small to support infrastructure, such as pipelines, and may be mobile, as with cars. For these reasons, proposed solutions, such as switching to using hydrogen or electricity as a fuel, rely on the carbon-free generation of electricity or hydrogen. That implies that the fuel must be made either by renewable generation (wind, solar, geothermal etc.), nuclear or by facilities that capture the carbon dioxide and store it (CCS).

There is however an alternative that gets some occasional attention: Air Capture (for instance, here or here). The idea would be to let people emit the carbon dioxide at the source but then capture it directly from the atmosphere at a separate facility.

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