Is it possible that carbon removal itself, besides being ecologically necessary, could also become its own valuable market? Let’s take a look at the young carbontech industry.
The most basic definition of carbontech is the productive use of carbon dioxide. The idea is simple: if we have to pull CO2 out of the air on a gigaton scale, we could use it to make something useful out of it.
As opposed to sequestration, where carbon dioxide is safely stored away, carbontech is using CO2 as a resource in a circular economy.
In a sense, carbontech is a form of reuse or recycling. Instead of recycling plastic or glass into something new, the CO2 from the air is used to make something new.
As long as the recycling process avoids creating more carbon emissions — by using renewable energy, or excess resources that would otherwise be wasted — it can reduce the CO2 that industry pumps into the atmosphere and lower the demand for fossil fuels used in manufacturing.
Carbontech is very new, so we have a lot to learn about its potential applications. There are already a growing number of companies making products from captured carbon. Some of these will turn out to be economically sustainable and others won’t, but there’s a lot of potential both for technological breakthroughs and for economic growth. Therefore, presenting carbon removal as simply a massive expenditure is reductive and shortsighted. Not only do we need it, but we can also benefit from it in other ways.
Just how big carbontech will be and when is an open question. Here is what the research company Lux thinks the carbon tech opportunity looks like:
Building materials, the report states will become by far the largest sector for CO2 utilization because they have low technical barriers and huge demand. Fuels also have vast potential but more innovation is needed.
If you would like to dig deeper you can download the executive summary of the report here.