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Columbia University launches carbon management initiative

The One World Trade center is seen as a factory emits smoke. Photo: Kena Betancur/VIEWpress/Corbis via Getty Images

Technology capturing and putting to use carbon dioxide emissions is gaining momentum, with a new initiative to be announced this week by Columbia University.

Why it matters: The initiative reflects growing interest in the technology among foundations and other groups. Scientists say it’s increasingly essential for limiting Earth’s temperature rise and avoiding the worst impacts of a warmer world. This is because there is already so much buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, we’ve reached a point that some needs to be taken out.

The details: The research initiative, housed in Columbia’s Center on Global Energy Policy, will be led by Julio Friedmann, a former top Energy Department official under President Obama.

  • Friedmann didn’t disclose the amount of money being put toward it, but he noted it’s a significant priority for the university, including its Earth Institute.
  • One big goal of the effort, Friedmann says, will be to figure out how to improve the financing of projects so they can be attractive to investors in a way that renewable energy is today.

"If you want carbon [management] to enter the market the way wind power has, what do you need to do? That’s a financing question," Friedmann said.

The big picture: That’s starting to change. Columbia’s initiative is just the latest in a growing list of similar actions supporting the technology and the broader issue of making carbon more than just a waste product. Other moves:

  • A think tank led by Ernest Moniz, President Obama’s energy secretary, announced last week it was developing a plan for this same type of technology, per E&E.
  • The University of Michigan launched a multi-million dollar Global CO2 Initiative last month aimed at putting the captured CO2 to use.

One level deeper: Carbon management encompasses a lot of things, including technology capturing CO2 from emitting facilities and directly from the air long after it was emitted. These types of technologies are technically feasible but face cost and financing hurdles.

The captured carbon can in chemical theory be used for almost anything, ranging from carbon fiber building material to shoes and beer. It can also be stored underground. Land — using forests to soak up carbon — is another component.