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.
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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 below.

­Related HowStuffWorks Articles


More Great Links


  • Allen,­ Paddy. "Carbon capture technologies." The Guardian. June 12, 2008. (July 16, 2008)
  • CCS Education Initiative. "Carbon Capture and Sequestration: Frequently Asked Questions." (July 16, 2008)
  • Green Car Congress. "BP and Powerspan Collaborate to Demonstrate and Commercialize CO2 Capture Technology for Coal-Fired Power Plants." Aug. 8, 2007. (July 16, 2008) http:­//
  • GreenFacts. "Scientific Facts on CO2 Capture and Storage." Nov. 7, 2008. (July 16, 2008)
  • Herzog, Howard J. "What Future for Carbon Capture and Sequestration?" Environmental Science and Technology. Vol. 35, Iss. 7. April 1, 2001. (July 16, 2008)
  • Jha, Alok. "The cost of cleaning up fossil fuels- and the price of doing nothing." The Guardian. June 13, 2008. (July 16, 2008)
  • Marion, John, et al. "Controlling Power Plant CO2 Emissions: A Long Range View." (July 16, 2008)
  • Ronca, Debra. "How Carbon Capture Works." HowStuffWorks. 2008. (July 18, 2008)
  • RWE. "CO2 scrubbing process overview." (July 16, 2008) kraftwerk/CO2-waesche/language=en/id=272122/page-CO2-waesche.html
  • Science Daily. "Lower Carbon Dioxide Emissions From Coal-fueled Power Plants Possible With Technology Development." Mar. 21, 2007. (July 16, 2008)
  • U.S. Department of Energy. "Carbon Capture Research." Sept. 6, 2007. (July 16, 2008)
  • U.S. Department of Energy: National Energy Technology Laboratory. "Carbon Sequestration." (July 16, 2008)
  • "Innovations for Existing Plants." (July 16, 2008)
  • Williams, Robert H. "CO2 Capture-Related Activities in US." 24 May, 2007. (July 16, 2008)