Dumpster Fire
How Burning Trash Can Be Good for the Planet

A waste incinerator facility in Oslo, Norway recently wrapped up a successful year-long test run of a carbon capture system that, according to those running the project, went off without a hitch. Reuters reports:

“We had very promising results,” said Oscar Graff, head of carbon capture, utilization and storage at Aker Solutions, which ran the year-long test since January 2016 with a facility bolted onto Oslo’s main Klemetsrud waste incinerator. “Here you have almost everything which can burn … plastics, tyres, suitcases, whatever,” he told Reuters. He said the test found “no show stoppers” such as chemical reactions producing damaging foam, pollution or emissions to the air. […]

This was more proof-of-concept than an exemplary experiment for other cities to heed, in large part because the costs associated with this sort of carbon capture and storage (CCS) system are, by almost any standard, prohibitively high. The technical director of this Norwegian project told Reuters that this approach “put the cost of avoiding a tonne of carbon dioxide emissions at above 100 euros ($107) a tonne [sic].” That price tag is more than anyone but the most rabid environmentalists are going to be willing to bear.

But there is still plenty of potential for CCS systems. If researchers and companies can find new ways to bring the costs of these projects down to more reasonable levels, we could roll these out in cities around the world and essentially eliminate our greenhouse gas footprint on the atmosphere. It would be the climate equivalent of removing the bullets from a gun.

It wouldn’t be as simple as constructed a handful of these sorts of facilities, though. Reuters has more:

On Monday…an international report said the world may need 4,000 big CCS plants by 2030, against only a few dozen now in operation or planned, to get on track for the Paris goals for limiting heatwaves, droughts and rising sea levels. “The growth in solar and wind has been great, but it needs to accelerate, and there are yawning gaps like CCS,” said lead author Glen Peters of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo.

CCS isn’t there yet, and it might not ever become cost-effective enough to fulfill its extraordinary potential for climate change mitigation, but test results like those coming to us out of Norway this week should give hope to those concerned about our ability to meet the challenges posed by our warming planet. In many ways we got ourselves into this mess, but we also have the capacity to get ourselves out of it.

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