There is nothing wrong with having ideas, visions. Even better when ideas are turned into materials, products or processes that are practical, useful, can make life easier and provide for better quality of life. In fact, I encourage such creative if not inspired thought and follow-through.
One of the more recent ideas has come to my attention and it’s based on the principle of carbon capture or removal (as in capturing or removing carbon from the air) and reuse (as in using the captured carbon as fuel to generate either electricity or heat).
Sound far-fetched, impossible, too good to be true?
So, I spotted this solicitation and I was intrigued. In it, the poster talked up this approach of sweeping carbon from the air. But, it wasn’t just about removing carbon; it went farther in the sense that the removed carbon could then be turned into fuel to provide electricity or heat. What a concept, eh? Yeah – if it works.
On the surface, at first blush, that is, this probably sounds like a great idea.
If done on such a monumental scale, it quite conceivably could be. And, I believe something of such scale is possible. But, could something on this order be self-sustaining, meaning could it be implemented on a big enough scale to make a real difference in terms of bringing the level of carbon dioxide in the air down appreciably and would such provide all would-be investors in such technology a healthy return on investment? – ergo the self-sustaining part – my first of three concerns.
The second has to do with ethics – is it ethical? The reason for my asking is because I am wondering if this type of approach would result in polluters – carbon polluters to be more precise – and sources of said air pollution getting a pass, so to speak, to pollute at will. In other words, if, in essence, the means is there to remove carbon from air, might this not send the message to polluters of all stripes – and that means anyone and anything that pollutes the air – that, in effect, it’s okay to keep the carbon in the air coming as the so-called “big carbon-filtering machine” can, if you will, “handle it.” It would act as a substitute and therefore supplant mitigation efforts, possibly.
Okay, so, in thinking about or looking at the second concern more closely, let’s just say that if the carbon from the air is captured and reused as material with which to generate heat or electricity from, if, on a grand scale and such is sold to consumers or whomever, then, conceivably, this could mean less such electricity or heat would need to be purchased from other sources, fossil-fuel based or otherwise, which would have the potential to lower the carbon footprint overall. If this is the case then it stands to reason that this type of energy generation would be in competition with that which is generated from or by different processes.
The third and last concern with this type of approach, meanwhile, is that it only addresses one pollutant or element: carbon. Fossil fuels when burned emit other pollutants besides carbon. While the carbon would be captured, any other pollutants that get left behind like oxides of nitrogen (along with the cocktail of additional air toxics that are emitted when fossil fuels burn), would roam freely. (Disclosure: I would much rather see a system whereby all additional emissions could be removed and even if not reused, then at least stored somewhere like in the ground in pits and the like. I believe it will be some time before that capability is at hand if it happens at all).
If all of the concerns I have raised here can be satisfactorily addressed and investors want to invest (in CRR), who am I to say otherwise?
On the other hand, any effort that cleans the air – be it big or be it small, this is certainly better than none at all.
With that said, what I will say now, is “All the best of luck!”
Image above: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
This post was last revised on Jul. 8, 2019 @ 6:56 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time.