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How CO2 Scrubbing Works

Applications for CO2 Scrubbing
Fossil fuel burning is the largest source of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Fossil fuel burning is the largest source of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Istock Photo

Perhaps one day you'll be able to scrub out CO2 just about anywhere. However at present, CO2 scrubbing is feasible primarily at stationary carbon dioxide sources like fossil fuel-burning power plants. If you think that target area seems limited, though, think again. Fossil fuel combustion is the single largest source of CO2 in the atmosphere: Power plants alone emit more than one-third of total CO2 emissions worldwide [source: Herzog].

Only the most stubborn person would dispute the fact that fossil fuels aren't going away soon. Because despite the two-pronged push to reduce energy consumption and switch to alternative sources of energy, people aren't that inclined to change their ways. And although we now have the knowledge to build cleaner, more efficient plants, the newer plants won't be widely available for several more decades due to the long life span of power plants (around 40 years) [source: RWE]. Research indicates that by 2030, two-thirds of CO2 emissions will come from existing plants [source: ScienceDaily].

Obviously, people need a way to clean up after themselves. As the only carbon capture method that can be applied to existing plants, CO2 scrubbers are just the solution. They're essentially a way to buy time until we can make the full transition to cleaner energy sources. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandates and the Kyoto Protocol (which sets limits for the amount of CO2 emissions each signee is allowed to emit) provide further incentive.

Other countries have started emissions trading schemes that will set a price on carbon. The European Commission, for instance, indicated that neglecting to use carbon capture could cost the region $80 billion more than installing it [source: The Guardian­­]. All of which means that even though carbon scrubbing is still an expensive venture, it could be equally expensive in the long run to do nothing.

For more on CO2 ­ scrubbing and other carbon capture and storage technologies, try the links on the next page.