Carbon compounds are our main enemy in the fight against climate change. If you beat it, you could possibly win the whole war to save the planet.
Here are 3 steps to defeat carbon dioxide (CO2) in particular.
Step 1: Suck It
The first step towards reducing the excess carbon is to suck it out from the atmosphere. Scientists advocate for large-scale carbon capturing projects and technologies to achieve ‘negative emissions’, which means cutting down emissions is no longer enough, we’ve got to suck up the carbon that we’ve already emitted as well. One way to do this is planting trees since they take in carbon and give out oxygen naturally. To suck in all that we emit, we’d need to plant 400 million trees, and we just don’t have enough extra lands for that.
Enter air capture technology – just like trees this can trap the CO2 from the air and the best part is it can be built on non-cultivatable lands, like desserts. One air-capturing plant in Switzerland uses small fans to pull air into a sponge-like collector to soak up CO2. It can capture up to 900 tonnes of CO2 per year. If built on a massive scale (ie 7, 50,000), they could capture 1% of the global emissions.
Step 2: Bury It
Once absorbed, the excess carbon can be buried deep underground via Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). This technology can capture up to 90% of CO2 produced during electricity generation and industrial processes.
Here’s how it’s done – first they filter the carbon from the other emissions. Then it is compressed at high temperature and transported via trucks, tankers or pipelines to be stored permanently deep underground. This is known as geosequestration. This compressed and liquefied CO2 is deposited into mineral zones below the earth surface. The chemical reaction between the carbon and the minerals underground stabilises it in solid form. Hence, a location with suitable rocks and minerals needs to be detected for a safe storage.
Professor Ray Frost, from QUT’s School of Physical and Chemical Sciences, say depositing the carbon in magnesium minerals. The presence of magnesium turns the liquid carbon into a stable rock- magnesium carbon. One of the world’s largest CCS project has transported 10 million tons of CO2 to its destination since the past one decade.
Step 3: Convert It
Instead of just burying it, CO2 can also be put to productivity by re-using, recycling and converting it into plastic, fuel, fertilizers, concrete etc. One such useful product is carbon nanofibers converted using an electrochemical process. A team of chemists at the George Washington have successfully converted carbon to these nanofibres, which were then used in various industrial products like wind turbine blades, sports equipment and airplanes. (Read more about the project here)
A team from the University of British Columbia created an electrochemical cell that uses CO2 to desalinate wastewater and creates useful chemicals. Carbon Cycle, a U.K. company, uses CO2 to produce ammonium sulfate fertilizer and precipitated calcium carbonate, a product used in the paper industry.With these new innovations and technologies, we cannot trap all the excess carbon but also can make a better use of this waste product.
Step 4: Store It
How about taking all the carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in the building, in our house and our room. Green buildings use technology and materials that trap the greenhouse gases like CO2 and methane which would otherwise pollute the environment. These innovative building models use bio-based material which acts as natural “carbon sequestrators”. Hence, if we use bio-based material like bamboo, timber, straw and hemp we can trap the CO2 in these materials. A green technology firm Modcell are collaborating with a European project to use new construction material like compressed straw which would replace plasterboards.
Another material would be bamboo, which is a natural sequester and can trap much more carbon than wood, which is commonly used.
An Australian firm called Mineral Carbonation International recently came up with a technology that converts stored carbon into building material. The aim is to lock down the carbon waste and prevent it from escaping into the environment. This technology uses a process called mineral carbonation, which involves binding CO2 with crushed serpentine. This converts in into solid carbonates. This by-product can be used in building products like concrete and plasterboard to create a green construction material.
Also read, meet the climate change naysayers.