Carbon is a key component for life on earth. It comes in many different forms, from industrial materials like polymers and graphene to trees and soil. However, the ways in which humans have captured and used carbon over the years is fundamentally flawed. As William McDonough puts it:
“...climate change is the result of breakdowns in the carbon cycle caused by us: it is a design failure. Anthropogenic greenhouse gases in the atmosphere make airborne carbon a material in the wrong place, at the wrong dose and for the wrong duration. It is we who have made carbon toxic”.
Photograph of Widnes in the late 19th century showing the effects of industrial pollution. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
When used right, carbon can actually be a great resource and tool, and a surprising source for opportunity. So how do we tackle this design flaw while helping to reverse global warming? One of the many solutions is carbon capture and use (CCU), a process that collects waste emissions and transforms it into new products. It also creates new economic opportunities, that will in turn build a new carbon economy. As Kate Raworth puts it, “a successful 21st century enterprise is one which will be distributive and regenerative by design in the very essence of what it does”. In other words, it is part of the cycles of the earth—namely the cycles of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.
According to Fast Company, the CCU industry is only in its infancy, however the Global C02 Initiative has estimated “that by 2030 it could represent a $1-trillion-a-year market opportunity”. This in turn could “help remove 7 billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere each year”. This accounts for roughly 15% of current annual emissions.