Scientists urge focus on new tech to capture emissions

It’s time for Australia to get serious about new technologies that can strip historic greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere, top scientists say.

It’s been about a year since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned the world must tackle the climate crisis in two ways.

While cutting greenhouse gas emissions remained paramount, it declared there was also an “unavoidable” need for the large-scale deployment of carbon dioxide removal methods to avoid catastrophe.

But a new report released by the Australian Academy of Science on Wednesday has concluded the nation isn’t doing much to achieve the latter, and that must change.

“Discussion on greenhouse gas removal in Australia is in its infancy,” said scientific experts who attended a roundtable meeting on “negative emissions” approaches.

They said Australia had actively promoted nature-based carbon storage solutions such as afforestation, reforestation and carbon farming.

“(But) these approaches can only account for part of the large-scale greenhouse gas removal required, necessitating accelerated development of greenhouse gas removal and storage technologies, both existing and novel,” the report says.

Report co-author Professor Deanna D’Alessandro said international momentum was building behind new technologies such as direct air capture, which involves extracting carbon dioxide CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it, long term.

But she said Australia’s existing legislation does not recognise some carbon removal technologies, including direct air capture.

“Discussing the need for carbon removal should not detract in any way from the need to continue to find ways to aggressively mitigate current emissions,” says Prof D’Alessandro, from the University of Sydney.

“This is not an either/or. There is no silver bullet. We actually need all of it on the table.”

She said there were vast economic opportunities in scaling up negative emissions technologies, including the development of an entirely new industry that would need a manufacturing base that would create jobs for workers leaving fossil fuel industries.

“This is an enormous opportunity and responsibility for Australia.”

The academy’s findings are music to Rohan Gillespie’s ears as managing director of Southern Green Gas, whose direct air capture modules are now at prototype stage.

“They look like a two-person tent with solar panels sitting on top, and each module is designed to capture two tonnes a year from CO2 from the atmosphere,” he says.

“And that can either be sequestered underground for permanent storage or used with hydrogen to make renewable fuels.”

They are designed to be deployed for 10 to 20 years, chipping away at historic emissions that are driving temperature increases.

“Direct air capture really is a technology of national importance. It seems to be a lot of focus on hydrogen maybe to the detriment of direct air capture, but I think that’s slowly changing.”

The academy said there was an opportunity to prioritise negative emissions technologies during the current review of Australia’s science and research priorities.

“Given the urgent need for greenhouse gas removal, Australia will need to foster an innovation and regulatory environment to accelerate the development of these technologies and attract private-sector investment,” it found.

A spokesperson for Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen said the biggest priority in the net-zero task was reducing emissions but there was also an imperative to develop removal technologies.

“Australia is working with the US through the Australia-US Net Zero Technology Acceleration partnership … to accelerate the development and deployment of zero and negative emissions technologies … including direct air capture.

“In addition to prioritising hard-to-abate sectors for carbon capture funding (the government) is also investing in Australian capabilities supporting direct air capture through the $141.1 million Carbon Capture Technologies program.”


Tracey Ferrier
(Australian Associated Press)


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