Carbon removal basics for curious travelers. Check out these helpful and reliable resources to learn more about carbon removal.
We need carbon removal because a build-up of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is causing our planet to become warmer. This warming is creating extreme climate unpredictability, disrupting interdependent natural and human systems.
Prior to industrialization natural systems were adequate to cycle carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and allow Earth to maintain a stable climate. However, humans now add 40 billion metric tons (40 gigatons) of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year. Source: Global Carbon Budget
Once in the atmosphere carbon dioxide remains for tens to thousands of years, trapping heat. Source: Nasa.gov
There is now more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than natural systems alone can absorb. The more we cut emissions—by switching to renewable energy, increasing energy efficiency or reducing deforestation, for example—the less we will have to rely on costly carbon removal techniques.
But even with rapid investment in emission reductions, the world will need to remove about 10bn tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere every year by mid-century and 20bn tonnes of CO2 per year by 2100. Source: Economist “Investing in Carbon Removal: Demystifying Existing Approaches
To keep our Earth’s temperature from warming further, and return to the air we had in the past, emissions reductions alone will not be enough. Carbon removal is necessary and we can help make it happen.
Carbon removal means capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and locking it away for decades or centuries in plants, soils, oceans, rocks, saline aquifers, depleted oil wells, or long- lived products like cement.
Nature can absorb carbon dioxide - think of trees, for example - and there are also technological approaches to absorbing carbon dioxide. Technological approaches are often referred to as “negative emissions technologies.”
Direct air capture is a negative emissions technology that can help clean up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere fast. It has the potential to remove tens of billions of tonnes of CO2 per year, enabling the rapid, massive removal required to address climate change. Learn more about the mobilization of direct air capture here.
Tomorrow’s Air provides carbon removal via direct air capture because it is a technology that we need to scale up quickly, and can be paired with permanent storage.
In every breath, we find our connection to this earth and each other and with it, our power to keep it alive. We know the quality of air in the coolness of a sheltered forest path. We know the feeling of fresh air at the top of a mountain, or at the end of a whitewater run. We know the rush of recognition, the joy in connecting with people from other places.
Travelers are explorers at heart. We are curious, early adopters, and influential among our peers. As individuals we wield influence; as a collective we possess massive potential to shape the future.
In the past travel has generated at least 8% of global carbon dioxide emissions through transportation, lodging, food and shopping. Learn more about the carbon impacts of travel here in a scientific paper and here in a newsier style.
Going forward we can develop new travel patterns to reduce our emissions, and we can set to work cleaning up the emissions already stored in our atmosphere from past travels.
When we band together we can regain the air we had in the past.
Tomorrow’s Air is built on the scholarship and science of the world’s leading experts in climate change. The information here is drawn from the Oxford Principles for Net Zero Aligned Carbon Offsetting.
Most offsets available today are emission reductions, which are necessary but not sufficient to achieve net zero in the long run.
Through conventional carbon offsetting programs, the purchaser of the offset compensates for its own emissions by paying someone else to avoid emissions elsewhere. In a way, we can think of this as a trade of pollution rights, because carbon is still being emitted into the atmosphere where it will remain for hundreds to thousands of years. Carbon offsetting project examples include planting new trees (afforestation) or restoring forests
(reforestation) for example or supporting renewable energy projects. While these can be valuable and beneficial they cannot solve our problem alone. Afforestation or reforestation generates carbon removal carbon offsets, but if forests are subsequently cut down or destroyed by pests, fire, or other natural disturbances the stored carbon is reversed and the carbon offset must be invalidated.
Carbon removals scrub carbon directly from the atmosphere. There are several ways to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. At Tomorrow’s Air, we are focused on direct air capture and storage as it minimally impacts the environment, uses little water, and requires far less land use than other leading carbon removal technologies and methods. American University offers a list here of different ways to remove carbon.
According to Oxford University, carbon removals have a critical advantage over emission reductions because they scrub emissions from the atmosphere. They will eventually play a hugely important role in stabilising atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, and potentially even reducing them after net zero is achieved.
Carbon can be absorbed out of the air in a variety of ways, both natural and technological.
Trees—all plants, in fact—use the energy of sunlight, and through the process of photosynthesis they take carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air.
The ocean absorbs carbon dioxide from diffusion – a difference in pressure in the atmosphere and the ocean that causes carbon dioxide to be absobed. The CO2 moves from the air to the water, when the atmospheric pressure of CO2 is higher. The CO2 is dissolved in the ocean because it is soluble.
Carbon molecules can bind to tiny mineral particles in soil and accumulate there. Different types of soil can absorb carbon more effectively than others. Check out Nori to see how carbon removals can be purchased from farmers.
Direct Air Capture machines capture CO2 from ambient air. Air is drawn into the collector with a fan, and adheres to a filter within the collector. Once the filter is saturated, the collector is closed, and the temperature is increased, releasing pure CO2 which can then be mineralized, or used in other products.
Enhanced Mineralization speeds up the natural processes through which minerals can absorb carbon from the atmosphere. The process begins by mining specific kinds of rock, such as olivine or basalt. Check out Project Vesta to learn more.
AIRMINERS Resources: To learn more about carbon removal visit AirMiners.org; you might want to start here.
When we think about cleaning up excess carbon dioxide we need to think in two phases - how we get the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere (the how) and what we do with it once we’ve removed it (storage).
As our friends at Oxford University observed:
"Shortlived storage involves methods that have a higher risk of being reversed over decades. Longlived storage refers to methods of storing carbon that have a low risk of reversal over centuries to millennia, such as storing CO2 in geological reservoirs or mineralising carbon into stable forms."
Carbon dioxide will mineralize - that is, turn to stone - and when it is put into porous basaltic rocks. This process involves mixing the pure carbon dioxide with water and then injecting it underground. This process is monitored closely and is very safe as the dense mixture is deep underground. Learn more about this process from Carbfix.
Surprisingly, the global storage potential of basalts is larger than the emissions from burning all the fossil fuels on Earth.
Source: Climeworks Direct Air Capture 2020 Summit, presentation by Dr. Edda Sif Aradóttir.
Short-lived storage offsets help buy time to reduce emissions and invest in long-lived storage, but they are not a long-term solution for achieving balance between sinks and sources.
"It is critical that investment in scaling and improving the technologies that enable long-lived storage begins now."
Source: Oxford Principles for Net-Zero Aligned Carbon Offsetting
Tomorrow’s Air is uniting travelers, along with the companies and destinations who serve them to support carbon removal with longlived storage, most readily available and quantifiable at this time via direct air capture with permanent storage.