A coal-powered plant in Tuticorin, India has found an innovative way to capture carbon emissions — by recycling them into soda ash, an ingredient in common household products like bleach, sweeteners, and even your toothpaste.
The typical carbon capturing method filters out the carbon before it is released into the atmosphere and stores it in a separate containment. But Tuticorin is changing it up by crystallizing the coal and turning it into soda ash — otherwise known as baking soda.
That baking soda byproduct means Tuticorin has made carbon capture profitable: Not only is it environmentally wise, but dirty waste is being re-imagined to sell plastic, rubber, or glass manufacturing.
With solar, wind, and hydropower resources becoming more accessible to the masses, the demand for natural gas is expected to be on the decline, making this carbon capture method attractive to businesses and consumers alike. According to the Ren21 Global Status Report for 2015, the world invested twice as much in clean energy as they did in the oil and gas industry. Previous roadblocks have stopped the U.S. from investing in carbon capture in the past. But this new mechanism can be outfitted to any plant — no matter how old — and is much more affordable.
The U.S., for its part, might take some time catching up to India, but it’s not because it doesn’t have other, cleaner options. What tosses America’s adoption of carbon capture into question is the Paris Climate Agreement; signed by President Obama, the U.S. joined the world in making a commitment to reduce its carbon footprint. The commitment, however, hasn’t come to much yet, and one can look to China — which beats America in how much carbon it releases to the world — for proof, with $361 billion invested in wind, solar, and hydropower.
Meanwhile, President-elect Donald Trump has threatened to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement within the first 100 days of his administration, arguing that the investment of renewable energy would result in a loss of jobs — the very jobs he vowed to protect.
Which brings us back to Tuticorin. The plant has proven to be a game changer for local industry and shown that even in a country that struggles through pollution problems, clean energy is profitable and just makes sense. The owner of the plant, Ramachandran Gopalan, “never thought about saving the planet,” he told BBC Radio. “I needed a reliable stream of CO2, and this was the best way of getting it.”