What is the difference?

In brief, carbon offsetting involves compensating for emissions by supporting external projects, while carbon capture is about capturing and managing emissions directly from your own operations. Both approaches play a role in reducing a company's overall carbon impact, but they target emissions at different stages of the carbon lifecycle.

Read on to find out more about these two strategies.

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Carbon offsetting

Carbon offsetting is a strategy used to counteract the greenhouse gas emissions produced by various human activities by investing in projects that reduce or remove an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) or other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. The basic idea behind carbon offsetting is to balance out the emissions produced in one place or activity by supporting activities that effectively remove or prevent an equivalent amount of emissions elsewhere.

The first step is to measure the amount of greenhouse gases produced from a particular activity, such as driving a vehicle or operating a factory. This is usually done by calculating the CO2 emissions based on factors like fuel consumption, energy use, and production processes.

Once the emissions are calculated, individuals, companies, or organizations can invest in projects that are designed to reduce emissions. These projects can be diverse in nature and can include activities like reforestation, renewable energy generation (solar, wind, hydro), methane capture from landfills, and energy efficiency initiatives.

It's important to ensure that the projects chosen for offsetting actually result in the claimed emissions reductions. Independent third-party organizations often validate and certify these projects to ensure their credibility and effectiveness in reducing emissions.

When a project's emissions reductions are verified, they are often converted into offset credits, also known as carbon credits. Each credit represents a certain amount of emissions that have been avoided or removed from the atmosphere. These credits can then be bought and sold on carbon markets.

Individuals, companies, or organizations can purchase these offset credits to compensate for their own emissions. For example, if a company's operations produce a certain amount of CO2, they can buy offset credits equivalent to that amount, effectively neutralizing their net emissions.

Carbon offsetting has a global impact by creating a financial incentive for emission reduction projects that might not have been feasible otherwise. It can promote sustainable practices and encourage the transition to a low-carbon economy.

While carbon offsetting can contribute to emissions reduction and environmental protection, it is not a silver bullet. There are concerns about the additionality of some projects (meaning they wouldn't have happened without offset funds), the effectiveness of emissions reduction, and potential issues related to accountability and transparency.

It's important to note that carbon offsetting is often considered a temporary measure and should not replace direct efforts to reduce emissions at their source. The most effective approach to combating climate change involves both reducing emissions at their origin and supporting offset projects to compensate for those emissions that cannot be eliminated immediately.

Carbon capture

Carbon capture, also known as carbon capture and storage (CCS), is a technology and process designed to mitigate the release of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The primary goal of carbon capture is to address climate change by reducing the concentration of CO2, a major contributor to global warming, in the Earth's atmosphere.

The first step involves capturing CO2 emissions from various sources, such as industrial facilities (power plants, cement factories, refineries), natural gas processing plants, and even directly from the atmosphere. There are different methods for capturing CO2, including post-combustion capture (removing CO2 from the exhaust gases after combustion), pre-combustion capture (converting fossil fuels into a mixture of hydrogen and CO2 before combustion), and direct air capture (removing CO2 directly from the ambient air).

Once captured, the CO2 needs to be transported to a suitable storage location. This often involves compressing the CO2 into a dense form (supercritical state) and then transporting it via pipelines, ships, or other means to the storage site.

The captured CO2 is injected deep underground into geological formations that can securely contain it for extended periods, preventing its release into the atmosphere. The most common storage sites are depleted oil and gas reservoirs, deep saline aquifers, and unmineable coal seams. The CO2 is stored in these formations through a combination of physical and chemical trapping mechanisms.

By capturing and storing CO2 emissions, carbon capture helps reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, mitigating climate change and its associated impacts. CCS can be retrofitted to existing industrial facilities, allowing them to significantly reduce their CO2 emissions without a complete overhaul of their infrastructure.

Carbon capture can serve as a transitional technology as societies shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. It can help reduce emissions from industries that are difficult to decarbonize rapidly. Direct air capture can potentially achieve negative emissions, where more CO2 is removed from the atmosphere than is emitted, effectively reversing the concentration of CO2.

CCS technologies can be expensive to implement, encompassing capture, transport, and storage. This has led to debates about the economic feasibility of large-scale deployment. Developing the necessary infrastructure for CO2 transportation and storage requires significant investment and planning.

Ensuring the long-term integrity of storage sites is essential to prevent CO2 leakage, which could have environmental and safety implications. The practice of storing CO2 underground, especially in proximity to communities, raises concerns about potential risks and environmental impacts.

Carbon capture and storage is seen as a potentially valuable tool in the toolbox of climate change mitigation strategies, but its success relies on ongoing technological advancements, supportive policies, and international cooperation to address the challenges and ensure its safe and effective implementation.