Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Changing the Game

Although their development and implementation can be costly, techniques to artificially remove and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere may become increasingly important as the planet potentially shifts into a permanently warmer state of dangerous climate change. As it stands, removing carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere has been going on for decades on a small scale to maintain air quality in submarines and spaceships. Commercial processes currently used to liquefy air also require the removal of both water and CO2. Emerging techniques to pull carbon dioxide from the air will be a necessity, say researchers from Columbia University’s Earth Institute. The concern with this approach is the unknown cost impact of these technologies, however, these costs can also drive profitable industries. The research paper from PNAS dated June 28, 2012 is here (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA).

Abstract: CO2 capture and storage (CCS) has the potential to develop into an important tool to address climate change. Given society’s present reliance on fossil fuels, widespread adoption of CCS appears indispensable for meeting stringent climate targets. We argue that for conventional CCS to become a successful climate mitigation technology—which by necessity has to operate on a large scale—it may need to be complemented with air capture, removing CO2 directly from the atmosphere. Air capture of CO2 could act as insurance against CO2 leaking from storage and furthermore may provide an option for dealing with emissions from mobile dispersed sources such as automobiles and airplanes.

As I've discussed before, this is approach is only one part of a multivalent set of ways to actually reduce the CO2 in the atmosphere. It must be done in concert with a shift to non-carbon fuel sources, as well as the actual regeneration of natural systems. It's a carbon reduction framework that can incorporate many strategies.

Some examples of experimental approaches (i.e., Geoengineering) that are developing in the industry:

Sucking CO2 from the skies with artificial trees

A Canadian company has developed a cleansing technology that may one day capture and remove some of this heat-trapping gas directly from the sky. And it is even possible that the gas could then be sold for industrial use.

Revolutionary new technology that produces “petrol from air” is being engineered by a British firm

And in a different approach, Holistic Land Management:  Grazing animals are the path to restoration of the world's grasslands, which has the potential to pull all of the legacy carbon out of the atmosphere and put it back into the ground where it belongs.  There are roughly 12 billion acres worldwide, mostly ruined by human misuse, which we can restore.  At a modest one ton per acre we can pull twelve billion tons of carbon out of the atmosphere every year.  That's 6 parts per million (ppm) - and even if we foolishly continue to add 2 ppm annually, it's still less than a 30-year trip back to a stable pre-industrial 280 ppm, down from today's perilous 393.

These few example processes not only relocate the CO2, but the technological processes can recycle it as a fuel, which is what got us into trouble to begin with. But, it makes it possible to leave the existing oil, coal and gas reserves in the ground instead of extracting it with very expensive processes and transport, as well as put a stop to the environmental damage it does. The urgency in addressing climate change is well-founded, and could be the instigator of a new kind of industry that complements the current renewable and non-carbon energy sources.

Could it even be possible to mitigate climate change faster than we created it? Anything is possible once the old fossil fuel industries get out of the way, encouraged by a global agreement on climate change and a commitment to restorative processes.