Plans to pump £100m of taxpayer cash into technology designed to “suck” carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere risks starving more immediate and commercially viable energy projects of cash, environmental groups have warned.
A project which has the backing of Dominic Cummings, one of the Prime Minister’s special advisers, is said to have received £100m from the Treasury to develop new carbon capture technology.
It would work by using metal “air scrubbers”, which would chemically strip carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The excess carbon could then be stored safely underground.
However, environmental groups have warned against awarding the project the funds. They say there is a danger such long-term schemes could divert investment away from more realistic near-term solutions, such as improving energy efficiency in the UK.
Mike Childs, head of science at Friends of the Earth, said it was a “large amount of money going on a speculative approach at dealing with a problem decades away while immediate things are being starved of cash”.
“It’s a bit like sailing a ship towards an iceberg and the captain on the ship telling you not to worry about the iceberg as he would soon invent a machine that will help you fly. It’s ridiculous. We shouldn’t hope some magical solution will come in the future.”
Mr Childs’ concerns were echoed by Fatima Ibrahim, the co-executive director of group Green New Deal UK, who warned that the technology was “unproven at the scale required to dent global emissions”.
She said it “could be a potential distraction and diversion of vital funds away from proven technologies that can bring emissions down overnight, in the here and now”.
“It’s a sign of a government that’s either not serious about climate change or does not understand the scale of action needed, likely both.”
Currently, it is extremely expensive to use carbon capture technology, due to the enormous amounts of energy needed to power it. The cost of removing a single tonne of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere stands at about £500. There are hopes the cost could be reduced with more investment into the field.