You can add "CCS" — shorthand for carbon capture and storage — to the short list of controversial, three-letter green investment practices (think ESG) in the run-up to a net-zero economy. CCS is either the climate tech breakthrough of the 21st century, according to its advocates, or a multibillion-dollar boondoggle, say activists.

Proponents claim that innovative, "negative emissions" CCS technology will play a major role in decarbonizing the global economy as part of an "all of the above" strategy required to make progress to net zero by 2050. Critics retort that CCS is an uneconomical distraction that misdirects investments that should be put toward the renewables needed to achieve the clean energy transition. Furthermore, it is championed by a fossil fuel industry that is the root source of generating the emissions that are the problem it proposes to resolve.

So, CCS: Scheme or scam? The pros and cons are several and knotty, and answers so far are conditional — it’s complicated.

The basic premise of CCS proffers a boldly simple solution to a complex issue. If there’s too much CO2 in the atmosphere, why not just remove it, transport it and bury it deep underground? While the CCS idea has been around for some time, it’s gathered much more traction recently. That’s because it has attracted increasingly large amounts of investment from those who think it a potentially profitable clean tech practice.

"We cannot overemphasize the transformative effect that the Inflation Reduction Act will have on the deployment of carbon capture technologies," said Matt Bright, carbon capture policy manager at the Clean Air Task Force.

Naysayers say: Not so fast. A report by Institute for Energy Economics and Financial analysis IIEEFA finds that the majority of 13 CCS projects currently operating have either failed entirely or captured much less CO2 than expected.

They also tell an alternate story about the promise of CCS. It’s a fact that the current landscape of active operations is a fairly small one that is currently not making much of a difference in the larger scheme of things. In 2021, around 40 million metric tons of CO2 was captured by existing CCS projects. To achieve net zero, that number would have to grow 40 times, to 1.7. billion tons of CO2 removed over the next eight years. Current and planned projects would mitigate 244 million metric tons of CO2 annually, less than 1 percent of the 36 billion metric tons of the gas that the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates was added to the atmosphere last year.

Will CCS be a critical part of reducing emissions in industries that are particularly hard to decarbonize, such as steel and cement? Or will the technology turn out to be an ultra-expensive detour that soaks up valuable investment funding that could be directed to turbocharge renewables, solar and wind energy? Billions of dollars as well as the health of the planet are riding on the bets being made during the CCS debate — winning ones to be determined.

Read the full article about carbon capture by John Howell at GreenBiz.