Friday, August 20, 2010

Fantastic Future Friday: Carbon Capture vs. Carbon Recycling

The evidence that the build up of CO2 in the atmosphere is altering the climate is undeniable. So the time to do something about it now. This post concentrates on what can be done.

For the foreseeable future human civilization will continue to emit carbon into the atmosphere, and reducing that is critical. Besides alternative energy and greater efficiency we can reduce the amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere at its source.

The first approach to this problem is to do what scientists and engineers always do when confronted with a problem, look to see what NASA did with a similar problem.

NASA had to deal with CO2 build up in spacecraft and used chemical scrubbers to get rid of it. So companies have taken that idea and scaled it up to use on power plants. Unfortunately, it doesn’t scale up very well. Using chemical scrubbers on smokestacks costs about $150 per ton of CO2 removed. Obviously this would go down if any money were given to R&D of this technique but even with incentives it will remain expensive.

The other approach is to look at nature, when CO2 builds up in water algae blooms. Rather than capturing the CO2 and storing it underground, the smokestack emissions are pumped directly into wastewater that contains algae and exposed to light. The algae eats up the Carbon and releases oxygen. It also eats up other pollutants like nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide and turns it all into a useful form.

The algae grown from this process can easily be turned into biofuel that can be used in place of oil.

Currently algae derived biofuel is marginally profitable so making a coal or gas fired power plant use this process makes some economic sense. With a little money pumped into R&D this method could supply a second form of revenue for power plants, which would make it profitable turn the power plants into clean energy sources.

This method isn’t completely carbon neutral as the biofuel will release as much CO2 into the atmosphere as the oil it replaces, but it will use that carbon twice seriously reducing the amount of CO2 that goes into the atmosphere, and that will lead to a fantastic future.

By Darrell B. Nelson author of Invasive Thoughts


Stephanie Barr said...

So many options. It's just laziness and greed that keeps us from pursuing them.

Greg said...

The problem is too many people are getting rich by destroying the atmosphere and they aren't concerned about the future of the planet, but the future of their bank account.