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Smoke rises from the stacks at an energy facility in Toronto on Jan. 15, 2009.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Madison Savilow is the director of corporate and external affairs for Carbon Upcycling.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) has long been touted as a way to help Canada achieve our global commitments to a reduced carbon footprint. Unfortunately, the development of this technology has experienced setbacks which are pushing deployment timelines further into the future.

We don’t have time to wait. Scientists have sounded the alarm that global warming is happening faster than projected. Fortunately, there is a way out.

It’s time governments and industries turn to carbon capture and utilization as a solution we need to sequester CO2 emissions permanently.

Carbon capture is the process of collecting carbon dioxide from industrial emissions before it can contribute to global warming. Once captured, the carbon dioxide can either be stored or put to use.

Storage involves sequestering the captured CO2 in underground geological formations to prevent its release into the atmosphere. This is what comes to mind when we think of carbon capture, but it’s not the only option.

Utilization involves converting the captured CO2 into valuable materials and products. This not only prevents the CO2 from entering the atmosphere but also creates economic benefits by turning CO2 into a raw material feedstock. It helps overcome the problems that come with storage.

The extensive infrastructure and geological storage requirements of carbon storage have resulted in delays in implementing this carbon management technology. The recent decision by Capital Power to withdraw from the Genesee CCS project in Alberta highlights the economic and logistical obstacles inherent in such large-scale CCS endeavours. This underscores the need for decarbonization methods that offer a return on investment and are less regionally tied.

Carbon capture and utilization – or CCU – technologies can enable a new route for captured CO2 and are ideal for regions without geological storage options. In regions with CCS-compatible geology, CCU is a complementary solution that transforms captured CO2 emissions into valuable products.

In both scenarios, these technologies can create dual benefits for the environment: They prevent carbon from entering the atmosphere by sequestering or converting it for permanent use, and replace raw, carbon-intensive materials in various industries.

For example, ex-situ mineralization is an above-ground process that converts gaseous CO2 into solid minerals. Those minerals can then be used in industrial processes, such as concrete production, in place of traditional, more carbon-intensive materials, significantly reducing the carbon footprint of buildings and infrastructure.

Factor this in to the current global building boom and this could have a massive impact on our climate goals.

The versatility of CCU also extends beyond construction materials.

Innovations in the sector are producing sustainable aviation fuels, regenerative plastics and even synthetic fibres for clothing – all utilizing captured carbon. These products not only mitigate carbon emissions but also foster new industries and markets, contributing to economic growth while supporting global sustainability goals.

Of course, different CCU technologies each have their limitations and benefits. For these methods to be truly sustainable, they must be economically viable, scalable and offer improvements over the conventional materials they replace.

A common theme across CCU methodologies is their ability to integrate into existing industrial systems. By utilizing waste CO2 from power plants and industrial processes, CCU technologies support circular economy principles. With the displacement of carbon-intensive materials, they reduce carbon emissions and reliance on fossil fuels.

The economic impact of CCU is significant. By creating markets for carbon-enhanced products, CCU aids in decarbonizing various sectors and spurs investment in green technologies. This market-driven approach fosters innovation, reduces costs and promotes the adoption of sustainable practices on a wider scale.

As we confront the urgent deadlines of climate targets, it is crucial to use every available technology. CCU emerges as a practical, impactful and economically sound strategy that complements long-term carbon capture and storage goals. With its capacity for immediate implementation and versatility in applications, CCU is an essential tool in our environmental strategy.

Embracing CCU is key to transforming the daunting challenges of carbon management into powerful opportunities for growth and sustainability, paving the way for a healthier planet and a thriving global economy.

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