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Climate Change Expert Professor Jennifer Wilcox Leads Lecture on the Role of Carbon Capture in Achieving Climate Goals

September 17th, 2019

Professor Jennifer Wilcox

"If we don't start removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, we'll grow hotter, faster." These are the thoughts of internationally renowned climate change expert Professor Jennifer Wilcox, spoken at a TED conference in Vancouver last April. Over a year (and two million views!) later, the chemical engineer visited Trinity Business School to share her research with an Irish audience for a public lecture on the role of carbon capture toward achieving our climate goals.

Jennifer Wilcox is the James H. Manning Chaired Professor of Chemical Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Massachusetts and has conducted extensive research into developing both mitigation and adaptation strategies to minimize negative climate impacts associated with society's dependence on fossil fuels. In March 2012, she published the first textbook on carbon capture which offered an interdisciplinary discussion based upon fundamental chemical concepts and the relationship between the chemistry and process of carbon capture technologies.

Professor Wilcox began her lecture with a commentary on the portfolio of solutions that could assist in preventing 2° C global warming by 2100, emphasising the need for the direct removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. “Around a decade ago, the focus was on strategies that avoid CO2 emissions in the atmosphere. Those could be fuel switching - from coal to natural gas, increasing energy efficiency, developing renewables or carbon capture from a point source - all of those things help to avoid CO2 emissions but now we’re at a stage where we haven’t done the avoidance of CO2 emissions to the extent that we need to. There have been several climate modelling studies released over the last year that are conclusively stating that in order to meet our climate goals not only do we need to avoid CO2 emissions but we also need to actively remove them from the atmosphere directly.”

Giving an insight into the scenarios we would encounter in the future if we continued under a business as usual attitude, Professor Wilcox then shared details of her research into Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) projects, including firms in Canada and Switzerland that are now removing CO2 commercially and are seeking licencees elsewhere. However, she stressed that the volume of projects must increase and advancing technology must be backed by policy-makers if they are to have a big enough impact on our climate goals.

Highlighting the scale of action needed for permanently removing CO2 from the atmosphere, Professor Wilcox referred to the conclusion of a study released earlier this year that she co-authored for the National Academy of Sciences in the US. “One of the major conclusions from our study is that if the goals for climate and economic growth are to be achieved, Negative Emissions Technologies will likely need to play a large role in mitigating climate change by removing globally 10 gigatonnes of CO2 per year by mid-century and 20 gigatonnes of CO2 per year by the century’s end.”

Because of Trinity’s long-term, multi-faculty research into alternative energy, the lecture was funded by the Marine Institute under the Marine Research Programme with the support of the Irish government.

Watch the lecture and Q&A in full here.