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A Silver Bullet for Climate Change?

Even as the world (unsuccessfully) tries to formulate a treaty to get nations to reduce their carbon emissions, researchers indicate it may be too late - the tipping point may have been reached. But what if CO2 could be extracted from the air?
January 8, 2013, 10am PST | Irvin Dawid
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Evanna Chung

Pipedream? Not if Carbon Engineering, a Canadian start-up company "formed in 2009 with $3.5 million from Bill Gates and others" has its way. A more immediate application of the technology, however, may lie "in developing a rational price for carbon emissions" according to Timothy A. Fox, head of energy and environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London.

Anne Eisenberg writes about the company and the technology - an application of the controversial process known as "carbon capture and storage" that may be essential to mitigate climate change, particuarly for the developing world that increasingly has turned to coal, the most carbon intensive fossil fuel, for power generation.  According to World Resources Institute, "CCS is a critical option in the portfolio of solutions available to combat climate change, because it allows for significant reductions in CO2 emissions from fossil-based systems, enabling it to be used as a bridge to a clean and sustainable energy future."

"The carbon-capturing tools that Carbon Engineering and other companies are designing have made great strides in the last two years, said Fox.

"Yet the cost of capturing carbon dioxide directly from the air has yet to be demonstrated, said Alain Goeppert, a senior research scientist at the Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute at the University of Southern California. Dr. Goepper recently reviewed the literature of air capture technology.

“There is a lot of speculation of how much it will actually cost,” he said, with estimates from $20 a ton to as much as $2,000. “We won’t know for sure until someone builds a pilot plant.” (An average passenger vehicle generates about five tons of carbon dioxide a year.)"

Even if the 'capture' part proves financially, feasible, there's still the 'storage' part.  Eisenberg writes that an immediate, if somewhat ironic application would be for "enhanced oil recovery" whereby the CO2 is used to extract 'stranded oil resources'.

As for permanently burying (or sequestering) the extacted carbon dioxide, according to a recent U.S. Department of Energy report, there are "at least 2,400 billion metric tons of U.S. CO2 storage."

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Published on Sunday, January 6, 2013 in The New York Times - Novelties
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