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Will Sucking CO2 out of the Air Help the Environment?

The injection of CO2 into the ground to extract more oil is a little-known agenda of powerful oil companies who hope we only hear their initial PR headlines.

A Canadian company called Carbon Engineering in Squamish, British Columbia is striving to solve climate change by sucking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, using a combination of huge fans and complex chemical reactions to remove carbon dioxide from the air in a process called Direct Air Capture.

Enormous fan pulls large amounts of air into a scrubbing vessel designed to extract carbon dioxide. The gas can then be injected underground or converted into a clean-burning synthetic fuel. While Direct Air Capture isn’t a new innovation, Carbon Engineering claims that its technology has advanced enough for it to have become a worthy investment. The company is still in testing mode, so they are not yet pulling carbon out of the atmosphere permanently.

The company is backed by billionaire Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, as well as by corporate oil magnates Chevron, BHP and Occidental. Another early investor is N. Murray Edwards, head of Canadian Natural Resources, a major producer of oil sands with a giant carbon footprint. These partnerships will bring Carbon Engineering’s tech to market by using the captured carbon to make synthetic fuels and help extract more oil from the ground.

According to some critics, the investments are too low to actually make a difference, while these companies continue to drill recklessly and push to open more territory to exploration. On the other hand, investing in carbon-reduction initiatives is part of the oil and gas industry’s budding effort to remain relevant and profitable in a world that is finally waking up to the reality of climate change and global warming. As electric cars and renewable energy sources become more affordable, fossil-fuel companies realize that their businesses must evolve.

According to Michael Webber, an energy professor at the University of Texas at Austin, “Oil and gas companies have to wonder about their future. They know that someday the energy mix will be different. So there are a lot of motivations for this investment.”

The IPCC requires some form of carbon removal to meet 1.5 degrees Celcius by the deadline set. Will Carbon Engineering’s technology significantly lower the amount of CO2 in the air, or will it simply prolong our dependence on fossil fuels? The answer remains to be seen.



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