In the age of climate change, carbon dioxide emissions produced by burning fossil fuels present a liability that many investors fear might one day bring down oil companies.
But as The Houston Chronicle reports, scientists and policy makers are asking what would happen if carbon dioxide had a value the same way oil, gold and coffee do. What if it could be used to produce goods and even fuels—the way plants and trees use carbon dioxide to keep themselves alive?
It’s not an entirely new concept, the newspaper reports. For decades, industries from oil to soft drinks have bought small amounts of carbon dioxide, piped in from underground caverns where it was trapped eons ago. But now the outgoing Obama administration, along with partners from both environmental groups and the oil and gas industry, are hoping to create a much larger market that will not only keep carbon out of the atmosphere but create a new engine for the U.S. economy.
“They need scientific breakthroughs, but this is a very important research direction,” U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz tells The Houston Chronicle. “It could be building materials, road materials. A holy grail, in a certain sense, would be to use CO2 plus other ingredients like water and sunlight to convert to a hydrocarbon liquid fuel.”
Such breakthroughs are likely a long way off, but it they materialize, it could prove vital to the oil and gas industry. Solving the challenges and economics of carbon capture could keep oil, gas and other fossil fuels viable over the long term as international efforts to slow climate change lead to ever tighter restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions that accelerate global warming.