What is carbon capture? Eric Toone, investor at Gates’ firm, explains

06 January 2022, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Wismar: Smoke rises from chimneys of wood-processing industrial plants at the seaport of Wismar. Photo: Jens Büttner/dpa-Zentralbild/ZB (Photo by Jens Büttner/picture alliance via Getty Images)

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Eric Toone is a technical lead investor for Bill Gates‘ climate tech investment firm, Breakthrough Energy Ventures. He’s one of two people who has to sign off on any deal for it to get funded, and he has signed off on five investments in carbon capture technology, four of which have been publicly announced.

Carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels is a primary source of human-caused climate change. Carbon capture is a set of methods — some time-tested, some experimental — for reducing carbon dioxide emissions either by removing them at the source or from the atmosphere. (The term “carbon” is often used as shorthand for carbon dioxide, CO2, in discussions about capture and sequestration technology.)

Toone understands the arguments against carbon capture technology, but he’s optimistic anyway.

One big fear is that carbon capture technology presents a “moral hazard,” he told CNBC in a video conversation. If carbon capture technology becomes cost effective, then companies might not decarbonize their operations — they’ll just continue emitting and then pulling the carbon they emitted out of the atmosphere, effectively treading water in the emissions race.

Instead, critics say, companies need to focus on decarbonizing their operations by using renewable energy and increasing energy efficiencies.

Toone thinks this is a false dichotomy.

“It needs to be all of the above,” Toone told CNBC.

That’s also what the most recent report from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says.

Carbon dioxide removal is “necessary” for “counterbalancing ‘hard-to-abate’ residual emissions” and it “is also an essential element 34 of scenarios that limit warming to 1.5°C or likely below 2°C by 2100,” the technical summary of the report says.

Who’s paying?

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