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By  Ruth Dawkins 9 July 2024 5 min read

Key points

  • Carbon management technologies of scale and urgency are crucial for a low emission future.
  • The diversity of our research and experience provides a unique, complementary approach to different carbon management solutions.
  • Bringing people together is critical – the energy transition and climate change is impacting everyone and solutions require a level of collaboration not seen before.

Carbon management is a critical aspect of the global effort to combat climate change. Both internationally and domestically, the transition to net zero emissions will require a wide range of technologies that can address existing, ongoing and legacy emissions. These emissions range from transport and industrial processes to agriculture and atmosphere.

Countries are responding to this challenge in a range of different ways that take into consideration their specific circumstances. In Australia, we are researching various carbon management strategies that will provide a reliable evidence-base for local, national and regional decision-makers. 

Allison Hortle, Science Director of CSIRO Energy and speaker at the Carbon Capture APAC 2024 Conference in Melbourne, said carbon management technologies are a crucial part of our net zero future. 

"We know that human-caused activities have already put too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As a result, we’ve thrown the equilibrium out of balance and the planet is warming," Allison said. 

"Even if we stopped producing emissions tomorrow, we still need to deal with those legacy emissions. Which is why our broad, technology-based approach to carbon management is so important."

Woman standing in a room, smiling at the camera.
Allison Hortle, Science Director of CSIRO Energy

Immediate solutions: Carbon capture and nature-based approaches

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says to limit global warming, we must reduce fossil fuels, scale up renewable energy and invest in carbon dioxide removal.

We are already working towards the first two. However, for Australia to achieve net zero by 2050, the development of a carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) industry will be an essential part of carbon management. 

We have been conducting research on CCUS technologies for more than 20 years and have built valuable expertise across the entire value chain. This includes large-scale demonstration projects and pilot plants to help industry adopt the technologies at full scale.

"CCUS is important because it sits alongside nature-based approaches like reforestation, enhanced ecosystem storage and soil carbon farming as things we can do right now," Allison said.
 
"Subsurface storage is a significant tool for managing carbon. It’s a big opportunity for Australia, but it's also an opportunity for some of our neighbours in the Asia-Pacific region.

"Timor Leste is a great example of a small country with depleted offshore gas fields - they’re empty of gas but still have all the associated infrastructure. We are working now on how those can be re-purposed and used as repositories for CO2 storage that may also help Timor Leste raise significant revenue over multiple decades."

CarbonLock: looking to the future

As well as addressing immediate carbon management challenges, we are exploring options for the future that will help support Australia’s national goals and contribute to global efforts.

Through our CarbonLock initiative, researchers are exploring a range of nature, ocean and mineral based approaches to carbon management. They are also establishing a pipeline of innovative technologies including direct air capture and enhanced mineralisation.

"CarbonLock gives us the space to explore big questions like how we can enhance the ability of the ocean to take more CO2 than it naturally does, without having a negative impact on ecosystems,” Allison said.

"How do we enhance natural uptake from algae and bacteria? How do we take CO2 from the air and turn it into rocks or building materials? These are questions that we can start exploring now, and the answers will provide new technologies to help us manage carbon and get to a net zero future."

Hydrogen and Smart Energy

One of our key strengths is the breadth of research we are able to undertake. This is especially powerful when combined with a multidisciplinary approach that enables seamless integration across different areas of expertise such as hydrogen generation, electrical grids, and energy storage.
 
While hydrogen and electrification may feel like less obvious aspects of the carbon management picture, they both provide exciting opportunities for managing carbon by replacing our current carbon intensive energy system with zero or near-net zero technologies.

Creative image of blue sky with the symbol CO2 written in the clouds.
An MCG-full of CO2 needs to be removed from across the world every four seconds.

Our focus on ‘smart energy’ is a part of the vital, ongoing efforts to upgrade our electricity system. This work integrates research from our Energy, Data 61, Environment, and Mineral Resources research areas. It embodies the multidisciplinary approach that has been so successful in the past for driving innovation.

"Electrification isn’t just a simple question of upgrading our electrical systems so we can use emissions-free electricity," Allison said.

“It’s about improving the way we use our existing grid and finding better ways of bringing low emissions sources into the grid to, ensure stability, reliability and affordability. A big focus for us is ensuring that work is proceeding as rapidly as possible.”

The emerging hydrogen industry is another tool for carbon management.

"Chemicals are quite an efficient way to carry energy around. If we can replace our current chemical sources methane and coal with, for example, hydrogen, it offers the potential for further reducing carbon emissions in the energy, transport and industrial sectors," Allison said. 

"Hydrogen technology is developing very rapidly, so we're getting much closer with that."

Facilitating collaboration through Towards Net Zero

Australia has several advantages that leave us well placed to face the challenges of climate change and emissions reduction.
 
Abundant renewable energy and mineral resources, geological stability, and established trade relationships are all factors that can help us become a world leader in carbon management through developing low emissions industries. 
 
However, Allison is keenly aware there is a social, economic and political aspect to the net zero transition, which is just as important as the technology angle.
 
"We need to make sure we have the research and development to enable these pathways to be realised – but that needs to be supported by the economics and social constructs around it. That is going to require collaboration at a level we’ve never really seen before," Allison said.
 
"Governments, industries, agriculture, researchers, communities, Indigenous groups, families: we all need to be working together to make this future happen in the way we want it to.

"That’s one of the things the Towards Net Zero Mission is doing very effectively. They are facilitating interactions – bringing people together around the table – so we can start to understand each other’s drivers and barriers. That’s a vitally important step that informs everything else we do."

In addition to our CarbonLock initiative and Towards Net Zero Mission, here are some of our other key carbon management approaches and engagements:

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