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Why we need carbon capture, utilization and storage in the fight against climate change

By Jonathan Wilkinson & Steven Guilbeault   

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When it comes to climate change, here’s what we know:

Science tells us that emissions must go down — urgently. Steadily, we have to chart a path to net-zero emissions, meaning we put fewer polluting emissions in the air than we take out. And realistically, this can only happen if we use every tool at our disposal.

Later this month, our government will release a detailed plan for how Canada will cut emissions on the road to net-zero by 2050. This plan will be ambitious — after a devastating year of forest fires, flooding, deadly heat waves and more, Canadians are calling for nothing less. But it will also be achievable. And alongside a whole range of measures to cut emissions, that’s where innovative technologies like carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) come into play.

What is CCUS? Basically, it’s the deployment of technologies that capture carbon dioxide from heavy industries — think cement, steel, fertilizer, oil and gas — and then either permanently store it deep underground by inserting it into rock formations or completely repurpose it to make new products like soap or cement.


See related article, Making Carbon Capture Competitive

Since too much carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air is what drives climate change, taking it out of the air is an intuitive solution. And as Canadian industry shows, it works.

Take for example the cement plant CO2MENT in Richmond, B.C., that uses a CCUS “capture unit” to pipe the airborne pollution through a rotating set of filters that screen out the carbon particles from the air and reuse them for CO2-cured concrete, thus storing it permanently.

According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Net Zero Emissions by 2050 scenario, the scale-up of CCUS needs to be rapid and immense — with 1.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide per year captured globally by 2030, rising to 7.6 gigatonnes per year in 2050. This is approximately 15 per cent of total greenhouse gas reductions and 190 times what is captured today. Moreover, the IEA finds that without CCUS, the cost of reaching global 2050 net-zero goals will increase by approximately US$15 trillion.

With our abundance of natural resources and skilled labour, Canada is well-positioned to lead global growth in CCUS. And since Canada is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world, it’s in our national interest to do so. As we continue to use fossil fuels in our cars and in our homes over the short- to medium-term, CCUS needs to be a key part of the transition to a net-zero economy.

Canada is already among the global leaders in this startup industry. We now host five of the world’s 21 CCUS facilities. One out of every six tonnes of CO2 that have been captured globally with CCUS is Canadian. We’re fourth in the number of CCUS patents granted, behind the U.S., China and the European Union. This technology is still in its early stages, but is already employing thousands of Canadians. It has the potential to make a big dent in cutting pollution, while creating sustainable jobs and economic growth across the country.

As a government, we want to make sure we support this innovation. That’s why we’re proposing a tax credit to help drive the growth of Canadian CCUS technologies in industries like concrete, steel, plastics, fuels and hydrogen. The oil and gas industry, which contributes 26 per cent of Canada’s overall emissions but also employs over 70,000 people directly, shouldn’t — and won’t — be excluded. That said, the tax credit cannot be used for CCUS activities designed to extract more petroleum.

The tax credit is an important part of our plan to mobilize substantial private capital towards clean technologies. To those who view CCUS as being too expensive, the tax credit will accelerate the private investment, driving down costs and encouraging widespread market adoption.

When it comes to climate change, there’s no magic bullet. So let’s use every tool in the toolbox. We have the ambition, the know-how, and the plan to build a bright, healthy future for everyone.

So let’s keep at it.

(National Observer)


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