Can Carbon Dioxide Be Cheaply Removed From Our Atmosphere?

I remember an insane experiment reported on the news a few years ago that proposed using cryogenics to separate moisture and carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere. The experiment was based on the fact that water and carbon dioxide liquefy and solidify at much higher temperatures than oxygen and nitrogen, the main components of the air we breathe, so that ‘By cooling the air sufficiently, we can extract both water and CO2 and send the pure. nitrogen and oxygen come back into the world. Fresh water, of course, could be used for multiple useful purposes, especially in desert countries, and CO2 could also be used for industrial purposes in various existing businesses.

It turns out that this experiment might not be so far-fetched after all, even though the energy requirements to cool large amounts of air would be staggering. These and other technologies are discussed in detail in a new ebook, Suck, by Marc Gunther, who previously wrote on the environment. The ebook examines technologies, existing and developing, to extract carbon dioxide from the air to, in fact, reverse two centuries of carbon pollution from the Industrial Revolution. Some of these are called “direct air capture” of carbon dioxide, technologies that remove CO2 directly from the atmosphere by solidifying it or converting it to a non-gaseous compound.

Gunther begins his story by assessing how successful governments have been in reducing carbon dioxide. As we know from reading the reports, not much has been accomplished so far. Reducing carbon emissions requires relying on non-fossil energy alternatives, and no serious effort has yet been made to artificially remove carbon dioxide from the air. This brings him into the great subject of “geoengineering” which is the term used by scientists to describe the methods available on a colossal planetary scale to create significant atmospheric change around the world. The Industrial Revolution itself is an example of geoengineering, although it is a project that had consequences that we must now try to reverse, namely the build-up of greenhouse gases. at concentrations unnoticed in our atmosphere for tens of millions of years.

Considered a matter of science in high school, removing CO2 from breathable air is easy to achieve. The Marines run it all the time in submarines with relatively simple chemical technology. The problem is one of scale and cost. One accepted way to remove CO2 is to pass the air through giant reservoirs filled with algae. Carbon dioxide dissolves in water where it is sucked up by algae to make sugars and other carbohydrates that confine CO2 in solid molecules. But neither can it be done at a price low enough and on scales large enough to offset the tens of millions of tonnes of new CO2 that we add to the air each year by burning coal and gasoline in it. our cars.

A surprising result of all these efforts for a non-scientist like me is that while the removal of CO2 is not cheap, it is comparatively cheaper than the alternatives, which involve reducing CO2 emissions by switching to energy systems that do not release carbon dioxide. There are also smart technologies that would indirectly tackle global warming, not by reducing greenhouse gases, but rather by sending more solar energy back into space. If there is less heat in the atmosphere from sunlight, the earth’s average temperature would tend to rise more slowly or not rise at all. This would avoid the poles and prevent the oceans from rising, two of the potentially catastrophic consequences of global warming feared by environmentalists.

I’ve also learned that there is a negotiable market for carbon dioxide, beyond the folks at Omaha Steaks who use it to keep your frozen steaks on their way to your house. Carbon dioxide can fetch prices of $ 50 or more per tonne in the oil and gas industry, where it is injected by oil companies into oil reservoirs to move fluids from permeable rock to the surface where these hydrocarbons can be collected and sold. The use of carbon dioxide has the added advantage that once injected into the soil, it tends to stay there, safely out of the atmosphere for a long time.

Gunther then takes a look at the small array of start-ups, including at least one that has won support from Bill Gates, who has just built feasibility factories. There are no clear avant-garde runners – and all of them suffer from a perhaps insurmountable problem, namely energy consumption. It clearly makes no sense to use dirty energy (and therefore release more carbon) to remove existing carbon from the atmosphere. This is one of those areas where some sort of exogenous technology or new discovery would be most welcome.

Gunther’s book is the length of a long Atlantic monthly article, and for the interested layman like myself, this is a great introduction to the topic.

Source by Francesca Salerno

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