Scrubbing Carbon Dioxide from the Air
In terms of reducing the green house gas carbon dioxide as a means to slow down global warming, which is more effective: An acre of windmills that generate clean electricity or an acre of tree-like branches made of sponges that are coated with a carbon dioxide-collecting resin?
Klaus Lackner is a geophysicist who has worked with Nobel laureate of physics, Martin Perl; Lackner has also explored nuclear fusion at Los Alamos National Laboratory, but from observing his daughter's eighth-grade science fair experiment, which used an aquarium pump and lye to capture about half the carbon dioxide contained in a test tube filled with air, he started to develop the idea of carbon sequestration. In his daughter's science fair experiment, he saw that lye, a corrosively strong base, soaked up the acidic carbon dioxide with greater efficiency than he anticipated. Fast forward 11 years and he has invented a practical, affordable method of capturing carbon dioxide from the air.
His creation is a synthetic "tree" that absorbs a thousand times more CO2 than real trees, which uses CO2 in the process of photosynthesis. The synthetic branches are designed to rotate hourly into a vacuum chamber, where they are soaked in water and release the carbon dioxide, which is pumped away by a compressor. So this system removes CO2 from the air and "harvests" it into cylinders of compressed CO2.
Each "tree" can extract a ton of carbon dioxide from the air each day, but even at that rate, reducing annual global carbon emissions by 10% would require "planting" more than 8 million "trees" which Lackner doesn't consider to be a big number, saying that more than 70 million cars and light trucks are manufactured each year. He states that each of his "trees" would cost no more than the average car, compared with the price of about $2 million for a single commercial wind turbine. But, who would pay for these "trees" and where will they be "planted"?Continued on the next page