Carbon capture: advances and challenges of geospatial data

May 30, 2024 | #Sustainable | 0 comments

Carbon markets, which emerged as a result of the Kyoto Protocol in 2005, have become a fundamental mechanism to ensure our survival on the planet. These markets allow individuals, companies and countries to buy carbon credits to offset their greenhouse gas emissions, investing in projects that remove carbon from the atmosphere, such as reforestation, promoting renewable energies or promoting the energy transition.

Today, Europe has the European Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), the largest carbon market in the world. Every year, we generate 32 billion tons of CO2. According to MIT estimates, we would need 200 billion trees to offset these emissions. These figures reveal an alarming reality: there is not enough soil to plant so many trees and, furthermore, their effect would arrive late. Did you know that geospatial data allows a new way to measure carbon capture?

How does carbon capture work?

Carbon capture, also known as “carbon sequestration”, is a set of processes that seek to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere to mitigate the effects of climate change. These technologies are classified into three main categories depending on their final destination:

  • Carbon capture and storage (CCS): This technology focuses on capturing CO2 from point sources, such as power plants or industrial processes, for later storage.
  • Carbon Capture, Storage and Use (CCUS): This technology goes beyond storage and seeks to use the captured CO2 as a raw material for various industrial sectors.
  • Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS): This technology combines biomass with carbon capture to create a negative emissions energy generation process.

Carbon capture methods

As with any other technology, there are different methods of carbon capture. Although the best known are those that contemplate “carbon sequestration” directly from the atmosphere, there are other methods that are increasingly popular:

  • Capture before combustion: applied in industrial facilities before CO2 mixes with combustion gases.
  • Post-combustion capture: used in chimneys in industrial facilities to capture CO2 from combustion gases.
  • Direct air capture: the most common methodology, which allows CO2 to be captured directly from the atmosphere.

Geospatial data and AI to measure carbon capture capacity

The planet’s forests act as green lungs, absorbing around 2.3 billion tons of CO2 per year. This means that each mature tree, approximately 20 years old or older, captures an average of 10 kilos of carbon in twelve months.

Although reforestation or tree planting is a valid strategy to offset greenhouse gas emissions derived from human activity, the scarcity of space to “build” new carbon sinks drives us to look for innovative alternatives.

In this context, the analysis of geospatial data together with predictive and analytical models based on artificial intelligence (AI) emerges as a powerful tool to identify new carbon capturers.

Beyond trees, geospatial data has allowed us to discover the carbon absorption capacity of other natural elements, some of them especially interesting:

  • Permeable soil: rainwater droplets, which capture CO2, are absorbed by the soil, which filters its content and retains this substance. Incredible as it may seem, the soil absorbs 25% of emissions.
  • Biodiversity: the fauna and flora present in marine and fresh water has great potential for carbon capture. This is the case of whales, which, on average, absorb 33 tons of CO2, the equivalent of a thousand trees, according to a study published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Carbon sinks: an emerging market

The United Nations (UN) Global Compact establishes the obligation to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 43% until 2030 and 60% until 2035 in relation to 2019 levels, achieving carbon neutrality. in 2050. Drastic measures that seek to guarantee the habitability of the Earth.

The ability of geospatial data to quantify the carbon capture of elements that go beyond trees makes them a great ally for the transition towards the circular and regenerative economy. This is due to the alternatives that can be considered, such as, for example, the commercialization of carbon credits by city governments; or the creation of a market around the carbon absorption capacity of agricultural soil.

Income that companies, governments and institutions could allocate to improving the sustainability of cities and maintaining or creating new CO2 sinks that allow a constant source of income. Geospatial data and artificial intelligence (AI) will undoubtedly lead to a paradigmatic shift in relation to climate change mitigation in the coming years.

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