Carbon Capture Technologies that Could Help Fight Climate Change
Evolving technology could make cleaning the air more profitable than fouling it, says Columbia Univ economist
In the wake of the hottest and driest summer in memory throughout much of North America, and Super-storm Sandy that flooded cities and ravaged large swaths of the Mid-Atlantic coast, many now recognize that the climate change isn’t just real, but that it is already at our doorstep.
As this realization continues to sink in, the political will may ripen to take more aggressive action to put a brake CO2 emissions. Already, President Obama, who had remained mostly silent on the issue during his reelection campaign, has made it clear that tackling climate change will be among his top second-term priorities.
But the fact remains that even if the entire world switched magically to 100 percent solar and other non-polluting power sources tomorrow, it’s too late to roll back some of the impacts of climate change. The current level of carbon dioxide in the air is already well beyond what scientists regard as the safe threshold. If we remain on our present course, scientists say, CO2 levels will continue to rise — sharply— for years to come.
Climatologists tell us that the climate change train has long since left the station, but perhaps it is not yet too late to prevent it from accelerating beyond our capacity to cope. There are technologies now being developed which could cut the rate of increase of greenhouse gases, even potentially return Earth’s atmosphere to preindustrial levels of CO2. Better yet, the price tag for implementing them may not be all that great — especially when compared to the mounting costs of continuing down our present course. Best of all, say two scientists who are making these astonishing claims, we don't have to cut out fossil fuels entirely to accomplish it.
I met with Dr Klaus Lackner and Allen Wright at Columbia University’s Earth Institute where they are working on a new "carbon capture" project which involves literally sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. The duo conduct their research in a room less than half the size of most high school chemistry labs, but teeming with vials, beakers, meters, gas canisters and other devices unnameable by a social science major like myself.
One of the tables held an array of cream-colored plastic doodads that looked like miniature shag rugs, scrub brushes and cylindrical Christmas ornaments. A smiling Lackner handed me an object shaped like the tuft of needles at the end of a pine branch. Only instead of needles, they were thin streamers impregnated with sodium carbonate which chemically "mops up" CO2 from the air.
Photo of gas production worker via Shutterstock.
Read more at Earth Island Journal.