Types Of Carbon Reduction

Understand the differences between carbon reduction and avoidance

Thomas Herry

The Basics

3 mins

Carbon offsets are backed by different types of carbon reduction projects. While they all aim to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, they use different methods to achieve this.

Carbon avoidance

Carbon avoidance projects avoid emissions in the first place, typically by replacing oil-derived with renewable energy. These include hydropower, wind and solar powered projects. They can also involve community projects such as improved cookstoves that reduce emissions from more polluting traditional varieties. However, carbon avoidance projects only cover part of our emissions and so are not sufficient to achieve carbon neutrality. Carbon removal projects are also needed.

Carbon removal

Carbon removal projects remove carbon from the atmosphere by capturing and storing it. Nature-based solutions include reforestation, land restoration, forest protection, sustainable land management and agriculture. Unfortunately, these are also insufficient to make up for all of our society’s emissions. In fact, while our society emits 41bn tonnes of carbon every year, to reduce it by only 1bn tonnes we would need to plant enough trees to cover an area twice the size of California. This is why we need technology-based carbon removal.

Technology-based removal

Technology-based removal leverages new technologies to remove carbon that is already in the air. These include Bio-Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) and Direct Air Capture with Carbon Storage (DACCS, DACS). DACS is a form of industrial photosynthesis. So, just as plants use photosynthesis to convert sunlight and carbon into sugar, DACS systems use electricity to remove carbon from the atmosphere using fans and filters. This removes the carbon and returns the rest of the air back into the atmosphere. The captured carbon can then be compressed under very high pressure and pumped via pipelines deep underground. Alternatively, the carbon can be pumped under low pressure for immediate use in commercial processes, such as carbonating drinks or cement manufacturing.

While these technologies are still expensive compared to nature-based solutions, they are becoming more affordable. There is hope that they will soon be economically viable and usable at scale to reach carbon neutrality. Given the demand expected for carbon reduction projects, many more of these new technologies are expected to come to market in the future.

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