Photo credit: Chris LeBoutillier
The effects of climate change around the world are getting more extreme every year. Just in 2023, we’ve seen wildfires in Canada and Chile; typhoons in southeast Asia; floods in Italy, South Sudan, and Brazil; cyclones in southeast Africa, and more.
Humans have generated so many greenhouse gasses that lowering emissions won’t be enough to reverse the trend of climate change. We need to heavily decarbonize the atmosphere. Decarbonization technology seems like a promising solution, but what is it and is it practical?
At VivaTech 2023, we sat down with three decarbonization experts to find out. CEO of Dioxycle Sarah Lamaison and her team have built a technology to capture CO₂ and transform it into a variety of usable products. Julie Gosalvez is the CMO of Climeworks, a company specializing in direct air capture technology. Cyril Garcia, Global CSR Head at Capgemini, is responsible for the integration of sustainability across Capgemini’s portfolio of client services.
Sarah Lamaison, Dimitri Carbonnelle (moderator), Julie Gosalvez, & Cyril Garcia. Photo credit: VivaTech
So, what is decarbonization?
Decarbonization is the strategic reduction of human-induced carbon dioxide emissions to combat the severe impacts of global warming, according to our friends at Greenly. This effort demands a worldwide pivot away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy.
Unfortunately, some industries aren’t able to completely get rid of their carbon emissions, such as chemical, steel, and cement production.
To combat these “undecarbonizable” industries, several processes exist to remove carbon from the atmosphere.
Carbon Capture & Storage
This is a linear process in which carbon dioxide from industrial and energy-related sources is captured, conditioned, compressed, and transported to a storage location for long-term isolation from the atmosphere.
The most effective method of storing CO₂ for carbon capture and storage (CCS) is by injecting CO₂ deep into naturally existing, porous rock formations, such as abandoned oil or gas reservoirs, unmineable coal beds, or saline aquifers.
Startup CarbonCure has built a solution to decrease emissions of one of the hardest to decarbonize industries: concrete production. They introduce recycled CO₂ into fresh concrete. Once injected, the CO₂ undergoes a mineralization process and becomes permanently embedded—an innovative way to sequester CO₂ emissions without compromising quality.
Sarah Lamaison and David Wakerley, co-founders of Dioxycle. Photo credit: La Tribune Bordeaux
Carbon Capture & Usage
This process refers to a range of applications through which CO₂ is captured and used either directly in its original state or indirectly after its transformation in various products.
Carbon Capture and Usage (CCU) is Dioxycle’s main focus. “We are developing ways to take CO₂ and make it into a feedstock and then recycle that into many different products,” explained Sarah Lamaison. “What’s interesting is that with CCU we are implementing a circularity of carbon and use what is already available on the surface of the earth.”
Dioxycle’s solution has already turned CO₂ into jet fuel, sustainable packaging, recyclable plastics, synthetic fabrics, plant hormones, shipping fuel, and more. Proof that carbon can be used in more ways than we might think!
Climeworks carbon-removal plant in Iceland. Photo credit: Climeworks
Direct Air Capture & Sequestration
While both CCS and CCU capture carbon at the point of emission such as at steel plants, direct air capture is quite a different process. Direct air capture (DAC) technologies extract CO₂ directly from the atmosphere at any location which can then be permanently stored in deep geological formations or used for a variety of applications.
Climeworks has built the world’s first large-scale, commercial DAC+Sequestration facility, Orca, located in Iceland. “Iceland is made up of 90% basalt rock underground,” explained Julie Gosalvez. “Basalt is very porous. So when CO₂ is mixed with water and injected deep underground, in under two years it is mineralized. This is a permanent solution to remove carbon from the atmosphere.”
Time to Level Up
The work that decarbonization companies are doing is a huge step towards a cleaner earth. However, in a world where we continue to use fossil fuels, the progress made can only go so far. All three of the panel experts evoked the need for decarbonization plans to also involve a transition to renewable energies.
“Our technology goes hand in hand with large-scale renewable energy deployment. It takes energy to power what we do,” remarked Lamaison.
Yet the implementation of renewable energy and these decarbonization technologies depends largely on how fast governments can create policies and allow for permitting. “Governments can act in many different layers,” added Gosalvez. “One is demand. Creating the demand on their end and regulating the markets. Another is incentivization taxes for different industries. And lastly is the role they can play in the scalability. The faster [these technologies] will be deployed, the faster the prices will go down, and the faster the capacities will be built.”
A wide range of diversified and complementary technological solutions exist for decarbonization. Now it’s time to implement them and scale up. “The [decarbonization] battle has started,” Garcia stated.
There was a lot to dissect about carbon removal solutions on our VivaTech stage. Keep learning and watch the session recording on our Digital Platform!