An Introduction to CDR

What is CDR? A process is defined as CDR when it results in the removal and sequestration of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere on net. One way to think of CDR is as "negative emissions." Another way to think of CDR is as the inverse of emission mitigation strategies (such as renewable energy and energy efficiency): whereas emission mitigation strategies seek to prevent CO2 from being released into the atmosphere, CDR strategies seek to remove the CO2 already in our atmosphere. CDR can be accomplished in many ways, from approaches as simple as planting trees to approaches as complicated as building machines that separate CO2 out of ambient air and inject that CO2 deep underground.

CDR Diagram
CDR Diagram

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Where does CDR fit into the big picture of mitigating climate change?

In comparison to emission mitigation strategies, CDR languishes in obscurity. Whereas investments in clean energy reached approximately $250B in 2013, it is difficult even to find an assessment of global investment in CDR. Depending on exactly what is considered CDR, it is likely that investment in CDR in 2013 was in the range of $10M-$100M. The reasons for this comparatively low level of investment in CDR are myriad: CDR solutions frequently cost more than other mitigation strategies, the demand for sequestered carbon is relatively small, few policies exist to support the commercialization of CDR, and, most importantly, CDR suffers from a lack of awareness of its ability to mitigate climate change.

Why is CDR important?

CDR will prove increasingly important to preventing catastrophic climate change. Scientists now predict that our global economy will have to generate negative emissions on net by the end of the century to avoid a 2 degree C rise in temperature. The only way to achieve negative emissions? CDR.

Why is investing in CDR urgent?

As long as we drastically reduce carbon emissions in the next few decades, we will have ample time to develop and commercialize cost-effective CDR solutions. However, such rapid reductions in emissions look highly unlikely today. The longer that our society waits to reduce emissions, the sooner we will need CDR to maintain atmospheric carbon levels at a level that will keep warming below 2 degrees Celcius.

CDR solutions will likely require considerable time and capital to develop to the point where they can be deployed at scale. Key scientific, engineering, supply chain, financial, and regulatory issues still need to be resolved before CDR can be deployed at scale. If we wait until we really need CDR to start addressing these concerns, it might take us too long to develop and deploy the needed CDR solutions to prevent catastrophic climate change.