What does Iceland’s historic carbon offset project mean to combat climate change?

When the world’s largest facility opened last week to pump carbon dioxide from the air and bury it underground, it may seem like a miracle cure for climate change.

But the first commercial carbon offset and processing plant represents a breakthrough in achieving net zero emissions worldwide in the Middle Ages — and ultimately a signal to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere — for a limited period of time. Essentially, scientists say, it will prevent catastrophic climate change, but only if there is a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and other cheap technologies.

“This is a baby’s move, but if the industry enters a mature industry, it will be remembered,” David Morroy, director of carbon offset policy and policy research at the University of the United States, told Yahoo News.

First, it is important to understand what carbon removal is, and how it differs from old and widely used carbon holding technology. Carbon dioxide occurs when emissions are captured at a source — for example, a coal-fired chimney. CO2 can then be reused for something else or if the goal is to combat climate change, it is stored underground. In Wyoming and Texas, for example, there are already natural gas refineries, for example, which hold millions of tons of carbon dioxide each year and force oil into wells. (The net result of that process is low emissions, but it is not enough to achieve the goals that the Climate Change Intergovernmental Panel or IPCC is important for.)

The new plant in Iceland, on the other hand, makes it even more challenging to find and remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Helshidi Geothermal Power Plant in Iceland. (By Ronald Halderson / Bloomberg by Getty Images)

So far, Iceland is preparing to remove only 4,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. By comparison, in 2019 the United States net emissions were 5.8 billion metric tons. And the Swiss company that built the plant sells credits to companies such as Microsoft, which wants to break free from carbon neutral, and currently costs $ 600 to $ 800 per ton of greenhouse gases – more than 10 times what carbon offsets are on the market.

Getting rid of carbon is a very energy-intensive process. Plenty of geothermal energy in Iceland is cheap and clean, but it still burns about fossil fuels to generate electricity and heat, and the carbon footprint is now about a quarter of the time carbon was removed.

But experts say this does not mean that carbon offsets will not work when needed. “It will be difficult to move from the old plant to the original technology 10, 20, 30 years later,” says Moro.

Then it may be necessary to get rid of carbon. According to the IPCC, global warming will be below 1.5 degrees Celsius: the level at which scientists say catastrophic events will begin: Achieving net zero emissions in the Middle Ages. Carbon can be removed from the air by natural means, such as planting trees, but now science is increasingly in need of projects that will be able to conduct “direct air-to-air” projects in Iceland.

Nowadays, the cost of fossil fuels using fossil fuels is much more environmentally friendly if they are used to replace those fossil fuels with solar or wind power, cars, and so on.

An employee at NRG Energy Inc. in Thompson, Texas.  The WA Parish Generation Station operates equipment installed as part of the Petra Nova Carbon Project.

Petra Nova Carbon Project in Thompson, Texas. (Luke Chart / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Once the transition to renewable energy sources takes place, it is a place where the low carbon economy will go to net zero and even the net carbon emissions economy. It can compensate for the most difficult sources of climate pollution. Avoid things like farms or planes, and even change the total amount of carbon in the atmosphere, so that if the world blows more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, it will eventually return to it.

“Are negative emissions important? no way. It is almost impossible to get to absolute zero [emissions]That’s why people like Howard J. Herzog, senior research engineer at MIT Energy Inive TV, are talking about zero zero. ” But he warned, “Negative emissions are not a substitute for reducing emissions. [We] We need to reduce emissions as much as possible. ”

According to scientists, there are already promising signs of inflation and rising carbon footprint per plant.

Climate scientists say that when the world decarbonates, carbon offsets and energy efficiency could improve dramatically. Climeworks that produce carbon are being built one by one. “If you imagine a car company trying to make their own cars, they will each be very expensive, but their goal is to wholesale,” says Moro.

“The new technology you see is not very efficient, but you have 20 times more efficiency before you run into the laws of physics,” said Klaus Lacker, director of the Center for Negative Carbon Emission. . “Somehow, in the 60’s and 70’s, it was much better to have live air than renewable energy. [Wind and solar] They were 100 times more expensive, and they made the learning curve go down. Live air is 10 times more expensive. ”

Finally, the development of these technologies is as political as science. Carrying and storing carbon at fossil fuels is cheaper than carbon offsets. The reason for the previous rejection of every coal or gas-powered power station is political: as long as your carbon emissions are free, utilities will do.

Lakner: You need a control framework that says, “You should not throw CO2 into the atmosphere.” If you do not have that, it is always cheaper to ignore the problem.

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