Two new UW–Madison-led studies inform outlook on scaling of carbon removal technologies

Greg Nemet

Greg Nemet

Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies that could be critical tools to combat climate change have developed in line with other technologies from the last century. However, according to new studies led by Gregory Nemet, a professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, these technologies need to develop faster to meet policy targets aimed at limiting global warming.

As policymakers, researchers and climate activists from around the world prepare to meet for the UN Climate Change Conference beginning on Nov. 30, one lingering question is whether climate technologies are developing and scaling quickly enough to meet the demands of the Paris Agreement.

New research led by Nemet, who is a professor in the La Follette School of Public Affairs, finds that novel CDR methods need to scale at a much faster rate to meet the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal of limiting warming to 2 or 1.5 degrees Celsius. That goal would require removing hundreds of gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over the course of the century, making the scaling of novel CDR technologies particularly important.

CDR involves capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in a variety of ways. Examples of conventional CDR include reforestation, wetland restoration and improved forest management. All other CDR methods have only been deployed at small scale and are collectively known as novel CDR. Examples include bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration, direct air carbon capture and storage, and biochar. These new methods may be able to offer more durable carbon storage than conventional methods that rely on trees and soils.

In one of their recent papers published Oct. 30 in Communications, Earth & Environment, Nemet and his research team debut the Historical Adoption of TeCHnology (HATCH) dataset — an innovative project that tracks and analyzes a variety of agricultural, industrial and consumer technologies adopted over the past century that can provide insight into the scale-up of new technologies such as carbon removal.

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