Meet the Mega-Structure That Sucks CO2 Emissions Out of Thin Air

It looks like a wall, acts like a tree, and could someday make our air much more breathable.

image via carbon engineering / youtube screen capture

Unchecked carbon emissions are some of the worst culprits when it comes to damaging our planet’s fragile ecosystem. Unfortunately, carbon emissions are also something of an unavoidable fact of life in our highly-mechanized, industrial-driven world. Of course, great strides have been made in regulating and reducing the overall amount of CO2 released into our atmosphere, but we have yet to bring about the sort of holistic sea change necessary to fully reverse the decades of harmful impact carbon has had on our environment. That could change, though, with the introduction of new carbon-capturing technology able to suck CO2 out of thin air, on a massive, industrial scale.

Canadian start-up Carbon Engineering has created what it claims is a modular series of carbon capture filters which can extract ambient carbon out of the air, separate it from its accompanying oxygen molecules, purify and distill it, and perhaps someday even re-sell the newly reclaimed carbon as fuel.

The video above is from 2012, and while since that time no carbon-extracting mega-walls have been erected, Carbon Engineering has made serious headway on an equally impressive engineering feat: A carbon extracting “demo” plant, located in Squamish, British Colombia. Although neither modular, nor boundlessly deployable, as the company’s proposed capture filter system is, the demo plant is designed to demonstrate the technology’s large-scale viability, and pave the way for a subsequent commercial plant.

These plants have the added significance of not only testing the feasibility of the technology involved, but hopefully assigning a price-tag on the process, as well. That’s significant, because as a 2013 New York Times profile on Carbon Engineering points out, no one has quite figured out how much carbon-capture-from-air will ultimately cost—something researchers will finally be able to test once a carbon extraction plant is up and running.

Even if the company’s concept for the giant wall of carbon extractors does eventually make it off the ground, it’s unlikely that it alone will be able to solve all our carbon-based problems. Instead, it would need to operate in conjunction with existing and forthcoming advances in low-carbon output, emissions legislation, and the overall trend toward relying more and more on renewable energy from the sun, wind, and water. Still, while carbon extraction may not be an end-all-be-all solution, it represents an important and often overlooked element of the environmental energy conversation: One based not only on developing cleaner forms of power, but on cleaning up after the less eco-friendly forms we have right now.

[via popular mechanics]

Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

As world leaders meet to discuss new ways to tackle climate change at the U.N. Climate Action Summit, they might miss one very big part of healing nature – nature. In a new short film, youth climate change activist Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot, a writer for the Guardian, talked about how we need to use nature as a solution to climate change.

There's a huge push to curb emissions, but it's not the be all end all of handling climate change; we also need to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. While we don't have technology to do that for us, there is another solution. "There is a magic machine that sucks carbon out of the air, costs very little, and builds itself. It's called a tree," Monboit says in the film. Researchers found that we could get rid of two-thirds of the carbon dioxide that we've emitted during the industrial era just by growing trees. That amounts to 205 billion tons of carbon. Right now, deforestation of tropical forests is responsible for 20% of current greenhouse emissions.

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