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Another Plan to Save the Planet Hits Rock Bottom

A promising way to rid Earth’s atmosphere of excess carbon dioxide runs into a major stumbling block.

It’s always frustrating when scientists come up with some neat-o way to save the earth from the ravages of man, only to later decide it might not actually work.

Climate change 101: excess carbon dioxide in the air is not good. You want some CO2 in the air to regulate the temperature, but the fact that CO2 was 280 ppm (parts per million) at the start of the Industrial Revolution and is now 395 ppm (thanks mainly to the burning of fossil fuels), does not rest easy in the mind. So some scientists came up with an ingenious way of dealing with this: inject the gas 7,000 feet deep below the Earth’s surface, where it will turn to rock and stay there. So we could just make all the CO2 we wanted and then turn it into rock? Wow. Where do we sign up?

Photo via Flickr user Vladimer Shioshvili

Well, right now, nowhere. Because scientists are discovering that only a fraction of this injected CO2 turns to rock. The issue, put very, very simply, is that once some of the CO2 reacts with the chemicals in the environment its injected into, it turns solid—like it is supposed to—but then that mass creates a block, which the remaining CO2 injected along with it can’t get past. So the CO2 just hangs out there in gas or liquid form, and then, eventually, makes its way back into the atmosphere, putting everyone, more or less back at square one.

Scientists pioneering this solution are not giving up, trying to find ways to solve or get around the clogging problem. In the meantime, CO2 levels are rising about 2 ppm a year.

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