It’d be nice if the world could be powered with zero-carbon energy but wishing it so doesn’t make it so. We’re going to be burning fossil fuels, for better or worse–actually, for better and worse–for many years. So we need to figure out how to deal with CO2 emissions from burning coal, natural gas and oil..
The XPrize Foundation this week announced a $20 million prize for recycling CO2, and I covered the story for the Guardian. Here’s how my story begins:
Given the threat of climate change, what should the world do with its reserves of fossil fuels? Some say keep it in the ground. Others say fossil fuels are needed to in order to provide electricity to the poorest areas of the world.
With the announcement Tuesday of its new $20m Carbon XPrize, the non-profit XPrize Foundation is taking a middle ground – launching a competition to find new uses for carbon dioxide (CO2) , the greenhouse gas emitted by coal and natural gas plants. It’s intended to allow the continued burning of fossil fuels while reducing or eliminating their climate impact.
“How do we take that CO2 that’s coming from power plant emissions, and incentivize teams to create novel products?” said Paul Bunje, senior scientist for energy and the environment at the XPrize Foundation. “The CO2 could be turned from a waste into a valuable product.”
The award, not surprisingly, is sponsored by fossil fuel interests: NRG Energy, a coal-burning utility as well as a strong advocate for solar and wind power, and the Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), a coalition of companies that extract oil from Alberta’s oil sands, which are a mixture of sand, water, clay and heavy oil.
With all the excitement over the rapid growth of wind and solar power–excitement that’s merited–it’s easy to forget that, according to the International Energy Agency, 82% of the world’s energy supply is derived from fossil fuels and that overall energy demand is expected to grow 37% by 2040.
The idea of recycling CO2 isn’t new. If it were easily done, it would have been done by. See my 2012 feature story for YaleE360, Rethinking carbon dioxide: From a pollutant to an asset, which look at capturing CO2 from the air. Or this 2012 story, also for YaleE360, Can environmentalists learn to love a Texas coal plant? That plant, which was designed to capture CO2 and use it to extract oil from deep wells, hasn’t secured the financing it needs to be built.
Which is no reason to give up. I’m a big fan of prizes. Maybe this one will produce a breakthrough project.
You can read the rest of my story here.