The climate agenda needs to be revived. Greta Thunberg’s anger became trivialized. The cataclysmic warnings of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) have become trivialized. The incompetence of heads of government has been diluted. Unaudited advertisements for carbon neutrality goals were popularized. And year after year, COP after COP, we are waiting for agreements that are not signed or not fulfilled, or pinning our hopes or frustrations on half a dozen leaders who can save the planet.
It is as if we believe that Glasgow is becoming a new village in Tordesillas or that the local congress center is a new Dumbarton Oaks — the cradle of a new world order.
Will not be. Even if COP26 is a success.
Where then can we nuzzle for a glimmer of hope, where to look for a sliver of light? In technology. Once again. The colossal process of decarbonization of the world economy can only be achieved through the reduction or total elimination of greenhouse gas emissions or through the capture and storage of these same gases, after reaching the atmosphere.
We need to finance and magnify technologies that accelerate these two fronts. The debate over the first is more mature. There is an arsenal of technologies, most of them under development, that will lead to the reduction or elimination of emissions, such as green hydrogen, electric cars powered by lithium and sodium batteries, organic photovoltaic cells or the mythical nuclear fusion.
But perhaps the greatest potential, at least the most immediate, lies in the technology of direct carbon capture (known as DAC), a way of slowing global warming using the aspiration of greenhouse gases directly from the atmosphere. And also in the technology known by the acronym CCS (carbon capture and storage), which involves capturing carbon directly at the point of emission — for example, the chimney of a power plant. There are 19 small DAC plants and around 60 CCS installations worldwide.
If carbon, captured through both technologies, is simply processed and injected into underground geological reservoirs (as in the largest DAC plant, recently opened in Iceland) or into depleted oil and gas exploration zones, then its economic and commercial potential is limited.
But there are hundreds of companies testing ways to convert the captured carbon into graphene, compressed or liquefied gas, gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, benzene or ammonia (both used in the chemical and fertilizer industry). It can also be combined with hydrogen to produce methanol, which can later be used as fuel or as cellulose, from which paper can be made.
In this way, carbon can be reused or recycled in industrial and even agricultural uses, which helps to rebalance the high costs of the technology.
Obviously, there is a risk of taking our foot off the accelerator of decarbonization and the energy transition if we manage to invent a way to pollute without global warming. Instead of preventing excessive alcohol consumption, we invented a cure for a hangover and cirrhosis. But in the current emergency state, there is no room for idealization.
In Glasgow, the floor must be given to scientists and entrepreneurs.
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