Human’s need for affordable, reliable, and accessible energy. This has led to the mining and extraction of energy minerals from Earth’s lithosphere (McKinney, et al. 2019, 275). However, this has led to massive issues globally as the combustion of those fuels has led to emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide to the atmosphere that also acidifies the hydrosphere and threatens life in the biosphere. The USGS completed an evaluation of the geologic storage resources for carbon dioxide injection and storage and found that an estimate of 3,000 gigatons of subsurface carbon dioxide storage capacity is technically accessible in onshore areas and State waters, totaling nearly 500 times the annual energy-related carbon dioxide emissions from the United States’ emissions (USGS 2013, 17). Capturing and storing carbon emissions back in the lithosphere where they were extracted before they can be emitted to the atmosphere can help reduce issues to the hydrosphere and biosphere as well.
Delays in physical capital, as well as cultural, corporate, and political mindset shifts, have continued to lead to insufficient action in pivoting away from fossil fuels. With nearly 50% of nonrenewable mineral material value coming from fossil fuels, it is difficult to untangle society’s dependence on fossil fuels (McKinney, et al. 2019, 277). In addition to various other forms of pollution from mining the lithosphere for these materials, the combustion of fossil fuels accounts for nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gasses that are causing global climate change (McKinney, et al. 2019, 474). This creates extreme weather that kills thousands of people and causes millions of dollars in damage each year, acidifies and raises ocean levels, and amplifies desertification to name a few of the vast array of impacts. With projections for continued use of fossil fuels globally, it will be critical to mitigate the damages from our current energy system with all available methods.
Risk and Leverage Points
While the continued extraction of energy minerals, like fossil fuels, from the lithosphere is unsustainable, a leverage point exists in the delays that exist in pivoting to a renewable energy system. Slowing the system down so technologies, prices, culture, and physical capital can keep up with the required changes in shifting to less emitting resources is a critical leverage point (Meadows and Wright 2008, 152). Carbon capture and sequestration can help reduce the emissions of current assets while minimizing emissions, allowing for more time for the buildout and expansion of renewables, especially baseload technologies like geothermal and hydro resources that currently are not installed in large enough capacities to meet demands. By capturing emissions from energy minerals and storing them back where they were extracted, the system can connect the source and sink in the energy system, creating a more circular closed-loop system for emitting energy sources. Like the old saying, “put it back where you found it”, carbon capture and sequestration can help mitigate issues in the delays that exist in pivoting to entirely renewable resources.
What barriers or hurdles to carbon capture and sequestration implementation do you see that can be removed to ensure it can be a useful tool in decarbonizing the energy mineral assets that already exist, as well as biomass and biogas renewable resources extracted from the solid and liquid waste streams that will continue to persist after fossil fuel transitions are complete?
Author: Logan Callen
McKinney, Michael L., Robert M. Schoch, Logan Yonavjak, and Grant A. Mincy. 2019. Environmental Science: Systems and Solutions. 6th ed. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Meadows, Donella H., and Diana Wright. 2008. Thinking in Systems: a Primer. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Pub.
USGS. 2013. “National Assessment of Geologic Carbon Dioxide Storage Resources – Results.” Vers. 1.1. U.S. Geological Survey Geologic Carbon Dioxide Storage Resources Assessment Team. September. Accessed July 21, 2021. https://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/1386/pdf/circular1386.pdf.