Public investment could double carbon capture, removing climate-warming emissions from atmosphere

Sept. 25, 2018

With the right public infrastructure investment, the United States could as much as double the amount of carbon dioxide emissions currently captured and stored worldwide within the next six years.

Carbon capture is a key component in reducing carbon dioxide emissions and maintaining the planet’s average temperature within 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. To do that, it is estimated that by 2050, 5,000 to 10,000 million metric tons of carbon dioxide need to be captured and stored each year, according to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Michael Celia, director of the Princeton Environmental Institute, and Ryan Edwards, who earned his Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering at Princeton, propose a pipeline network that would transfer carbon dioxide waste from ethanol refineries in the American Midwest — where grains are fermented to produce the alcohol-based fuel — to oilfields in West Texas. The captured carbon would then be pumped into near-depleted oil fields through a technique known as enhanced oil recovery, where the carbon dioxide helps recover residual oil while ultimately being trapped underground.

The researchers found that this capture-and-storage network could prevent up to 30 million metric tons of human-made carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year — an amount equal to removing 6.5 million cars from the road. Currently, about 31 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually are captured and stored worldwide.

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