Slicing the Pie: How Big Could Carbon Dioxide Removal Be?

Conference Dates

May 22-26, 2017


The current global dependence on using fossil fuels to meet energy needs continues to increase. If 2°C warming by 2050 is to be prevented, it will become important to adopt strategies that not only avoid CO2 emissions, but also allow for the direct removal of CO2 from the atmosphere, enabling the intervention of climate change. The primary direct removal methods discussed in this contribution include land management, mineral carbonation and bioenergy and direct air capture with carbon capture and reliable storage. These methods are discussed in detail and their potential for CO2 removal assessed. The global upper bound for annual CO2 removal was estimated to be 12, 10, 6, and 5 GtCO2/yr for BECCS, DACS, land management, and mineral carbonation, respectively – resulting in a cumulative value of about 33 GtCO2/yr. However, in the case of DACS, global data on the overlap of low-emission energy sources and reliable CO2 storage opportunities – set as a qualification for DAC viability – was unavailable and the potential upper bound estimate is thus considered conservative. While direct CO2 removal at the upper bounds identified in this review is insufficient to completely mitigate the projected 1,800 GtCO2 emissions projected by 2050, the cumulative impact of these methods could counteract up to ~60% of these emissions. The upper bounds on the costs associated with the direct CO2 removal methods varied from approximately $100/tCO2 (land management, BECCS, and mineral carbonation) to in excess of $1000/tCO2 (again, these are the upper bounds for costs). In this analysis these direct CO2 removal technologies are found to be technically viable and potentially important options in preventing 2°C warming by 2050. However, caution is warranted in moving forward with implementation of CO2 removal, especially in the case of attempting to rapidly decrease atmospheric concentrations; it is recommended that the risks of scaling up too quickly be weighed against the existing risks associated with global warming.

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