The Race to Achieve Net-Zero: Removing the Carbon Dioxide Roadblock

September 11, 2023
Dr. Sharon Webb

The Race to Achieve Net-Zero: Removing the Carbon Dioxide Roadblock

The UN’s Race to Net Zero

As the effects of climate change and its association with greenhouse gases become more conspicuous, industries and politicians are focusing on what to do about carbon dioxide – a notorious, long-lived greenhouse gas – polluting the atmosphere. CO2 levels in the atmosphere are reaching and nearly surpassing the dangerous threshold identified by the UN Climate Change Report in 2022. “There is already too much CO2 in the atmosphere, and we are already perilously close to tipping points that could lead to cascading and irreversible climate effects.” –UN Nations

This UN finding from the 2022 report is old news. But climate change is not. In a year characterized by searing heat waves, destructive flash flooding, and devastating wildfires, attention has become focused even more acutely on the immediacy of climate change and its implications for our life on Earth.

The gravity of the planet’s climate crisis will be a major theme at the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in November 2023, when several hundred nations meet to assess how far they are from their 2015 promises for limiting global warming. To prepare for this meeting, a “global stocktake” is underway, a study and report mandated by the UN delivering the warning that “the world is not on target to curb global warming, and more action is needed on all fronts.” (

The UN views this “global stocktake” as a critical moment for course correction, an opportunity to accelerate measures to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. As the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) recently stated, “The science is unequivocal: a course correction is needed. And it needs to happen now.” ( The UNFCC clearly articulates the scientific consensus that we must cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, en route to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. Anything less risks global catastrophe – and we already see symptoms of what our future will hold if we miss the mark.

While there is a consensus that we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it is also recognized that emissions reduction alone is insufficient. This is at the heart of the UN’s “Race to Zero.” ( Reducing greenhouse gas emissions decreases the amount  of *new* emissions entering the atmosphere. But until net zero is reached, we are still discharging these pollutants into the atmosphere, albeit at a slower rate. Furthermore, reducing greenhouse gas emissions does nothing to remove the poluutants already there. As the UNFCC states, “To achieve our goals [under the 2015 Paris Treaty], we must be reducing our emissions as fast as possible across all sectors while increasing our global capacity to remove past emissions from the atmosphere. These activities are complimentary; they cannot be substituted one for the other.”  (

Winning the Race to Zero

Besides reducing emissions, the UNFCC emphasizes that we need to increase global CO2 removal capacity from our current level of several million tons annually to a multi-gigaton annual scale by 2030. ( But this begs the question: After we remove CO2 from the atmosphere and/or trap CO2 so it doesn’t enter the atmosphere, what do we do with it?  This is the predicament that Earth faces. CO2 is the roadblock to overcome if we are to win the planet-saving Race to [Net] Zero.

The easiest solution, forming the mainstay of the UNFCC recommendations, is straightforward: CO2 is a waste product and requires disposal. Using this approach, CO2 is either captured as it is produced (e.g., from point-source emissions) or is recovered from the atmosphere (termed “direct air capture”) and is stored or sequestered. In more detail, the captured CO2 is generally compressed and moved by pipeline, rail, truck, or ship to where it will be injected into reservoirs that incarcerate it long-term – ideally for centuries, if not millennia. Such storage facilities, often deep geological formations such as underground saline formations or depleted oil and gas reservoirs, must be carefully selected to allow for the necessary long-term retention of CO2 so that CO2 storage is “safe, environmentally sustainable, and cost-effective.” (

While the International Energy Agency recognizes the storage option as the ”backbone of the carbon management industry,” projected to reach over 420 Mt CO2/year by 2030, regrettably, “this is insufficient to meet the … 1,200 Mt CO2/yr by 2030” necessary to win the Race to Net Zero. ( Moreover, the requirements for storage generally include costly additional steps, including compressing the CO2, arranging transportation, and discharging the material into an appropriate facility for near-permanent sequestration. Each of these steps adds expense and inconvenience to storage options, making them less economically viable overall.

Transforming CO2

As an alternative, several technologies are being developed that utilize and repurpose CO2 instead of simply storing it. ( .) Most of these strategies still rely on forms of sequestration where CO2 is trapped by natural resources such as the soil or the biosphere or where CO2 is employed relatively unchanged to improve the performance or characteristics of other materials. For example, CO2 has been extensively used to enhance oil recovery processes, allowing access to underground oil resources that would otherwise be unrecoverable. ( As another example, CO2 can be captured and injected into fresh concrete, improving the strength of materials made from concrete or cement while permanently trapping the CO2 in those long-lived substances. (

These sorts of techniques find uses for CO2 beyond mere storage. However, notably, they only use CO2 physically, for example, as a source of pressurized bubbles or as a source of strength-producing inclusions in other substances. The opportunities for using CO2 in this way are restricted to those products and processes that can integrate CO2 as an unchanged chemical. As such, they are limited in scope and cannot effectively remove the CO2 roadblock to net zero.

The reach of these techniques is inherently circumscribed by their inability to change CO2 into anything else; they do not make use of CO2 for chemical reactions. Without having access to chemical pathways, CO2 can only be managed as a waste material or incorporated into other substances that can use its physical properties – CO2 cannot be repurposed and turned into anything else. There is a good reason for this: thermodynamics. The carbon in CO2 clings so tightly to its two oxygen partners that it takes significant energy to break those bonds. High temperatures and pressures must be employed to overcome the molecule’s stubborn resistance to chemical reactions, which makes this molecule unattractive for use as a reactant.

Carbogenesis has discovered a way to remove the thermodynamic barriers that currently hamper the use of CO2 for chemical reactions. Using plasma technology to activate CO2, Carbogenesis turns CO2 into an active participant in chemical reactions. Now, CO2 need not simply be stored or used to form bubbles – it is put to work in chemical engineering.

The Carbogenesis technology carries this out by subjecting CO2 to sufficient energy to turn it into a plasma. Plasma is an electrically conducting medium formed by heating a gas (such as CO2) to an extremely high temperature that causes vigorous collisions between the atoms and molecules in the gas that break these particles apart, forming electrons, ions, and free radicals. These smaller charged particles can then recombine to yield chemical products and can be channeled to participate in other chemical reactions. By energizing CO2 to form a plasma, Carbogenesis transforms this relatively inert molecule from a roadblock into a reactant.

Carbogenesis thus enables companies to become more proactive in decreasing the amounts of CO2 that enter the atmosphere. At the same time, Carbogenesis brings profitability to decarbonization: CO2 becomes an asset for use across a wide spectrum of chemical reactions, a valuable resource with multiple prospects for use instead of an expensive burden. Carbogenesis opens a new dimension of possibilities for what to do with the CO2 that we capture. Using the Carbogenesis technology, we can turn CO2 into a chemical reactant and use it to make the products that society needs.

Through the power of plasma, Carbogenesis expands the options for using CO2 productively and sustainably. Affording a multitude of new opportunities for accelerating decarbonization, Carbogenesis helps to remove the CO2 roadblock along the path to net zero as we race towards this planet-saving goal by 2050. CO2 in the atmosphere is a barrier obstructing this path, and as such it poses an existential threat to our lives on Earth. The race to net zero is a race that we must win.