January 01, 2018

Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle Carbon Dioxide

Mary Ellen Ternes

There is a train wreck happening in U.S. climate policy that will not be resolved soon. But perhaps carbon capture and utilization can assist while we figure this out. As a former chemical engineer from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Superfund and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act incineration trenches working with industry on carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration, this author understands that the proposition of carbon capture alone can be daunting. Capture technology is robust, but scale and concentration can impact efficiencies, creating challenges. The inefficiencies seem overwhelming when the goal is permanent geologic sequestration. Carbon dioxide is a valuable industrial gas. Capturing it at great expense, only to discard it via geologic sequestration, triggering permanent sequestration obligations including monitoring and integrity verification, has always been a difficult proposition. Proposals to harvest carbon dioxide from ambient air to produce saleable products beg the question, why would we not first more broadly employ carbon capture, at the emission source, and utilize that carbon dioxide? Especially with the current federal climate policy impasse, the forces driven to fill the vacuum, including state and local action and proactive sustainable businesses, could reconsider reduce, reuse, and recycle approaches to carbon dioxide waste (and thus carbon dioxide emission) minimization. Even considering the inherent challenges of carbon capture and utilization, more carbon dioxide could be captured and utilized as a valuable industrial gas outside of government mandate.

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