Topline

Researchers unveiled a proposal Wednesday to capture and store carbon dioxide in train cars, a solution they cast as a cheaper and less land- and energy-intensive alternative to the carbon capture facilities many scientists hope will eventually help the world cut greenhouse gas emissions—an unorthodox approach to combatting climate change.

Key Facts

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The train cars—detailed in a paper published by the journal Joule—are an unusual spin on longstanding research into “carbon capture and storage” technologies, which are designed to capture the carbon dioxide generated by burning fossil fuels before it enters the atmosphere and then store the gas, oftentimes underground.

The train cars would have large forward-facing vents that take in carbon dioxide as they move forward, and can then store the greenhouse gas in a liquid reservoir before shipping it to geological sequestration sites, where carbon is stored in underground geologic formations or rocks.

Researchers cast the trains as a solution to some of the pitfalls of more traditional approaches to carbon capture, which often involve energy-intensive fans and require substantial amounts of land and permits, creating a “huge problem” because “most everybody wants to fix the climate crisis, but nobody wants to do it in their backyard,” study co-author Geoffrey Ozin, a chemist at the University of Toronto, said in a statement.

Instead, rail-based carbon capture cars wouldn’t require any permits and would be “transient and generally unseen by the public,” Ozin said.

The price to capture carbon dioxide through the rail cars—$50 per ton, according to the researchers’ estimates—is also significantly cheaper than other proposed carbon capture systems, which can sometimes cost up to $600 per ton.

Big Number

Up to 6,000 tons. That's how much carbon dioxide the average carbon-capture train could remove from the atmosphere per year, according to researchers, making up a small fraction of the 5.2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide the US alone emitted in 2020.

News Peg

The proposal comes as temperatures in the United Kingdom hit a record high Tuesday, part of a broader heatwave impacting Europe that experts say is the result of human-driven climate change.

Key Background

The Biden Administration and major companies have dedicated funding in recent years to explore carbon capture—an experimental technology that has been tested through small-scale projects. The Biden Administration allocated $12 billion to carbon capture projects through an infrastructure bill passed last November, and extra funding for such projects was also included in the stalled Build Back Better Act. Currently, there are 21 carbon capture, utilization and storage facilities around the world, with dozens more in the process of development. This research comes amid increased urgency about the risks of climate change: In a report published in April, the United Nations said carbon emissions from 2010 to 2019 were higher than ever before in human history and warned humans must act "now or never" to reduce emissions to combat global warming. But some climate researchers and activists have cautioned the method can be costly and inefficient, may increase air pollution and could distract from larger goals to transition to renewable energy sources.

There's a carbon-capture gold rush. Some warn better solutions exist. (Washington Post)

Congress is spending billions on carbon capture. Is it a climate savior or a boondoggle? (CBS News)