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What is Carbon Capture?

Alisdare Hickson on Flickr

Desertification, floods, massive wildfires, and food shortages are all just some of the impacts that climate change has and will have on our daily lives. Climate change is the greatest challenge that humans will have ever faced as a species. But what is climate change exactly? and what are some ways that we are using technology to tackle this challenge?

What is climate change?

Human-driven climate change is the change in the natural, sustainable temperature of the planet. It is caused by the increase in greenhouse gasses as a direct impact of human activity.

But what are greenhouse gases? Greenhouse gases are gasses like methane and carbon dioxide which naturally exist in the earth’s atmosphere and trap the sun’s energy to help keep the global temperature stable. But when there are unnaturally high levels of greenhouse gasses, they actually do the opposite. This is similar to how some ice cream is great, but too much will make you sick.

Because of human mining and the use of fossil fuels (like gasoline), the number of greenhouse gasses have increased far beyond natural levels. This means more of the sun’s energy is being trapped in the earth’s atmosphere, raising the temperature of the earth beyond what is sustainable for life as we know it.

Now that we have a basic understanding of what climate change is, what are some of the ways that people are trying to address it?

Catching that Carbon!

One of the biggest contributors to climate change is the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere. While the best way to limit/stop the amount of CO2 is to switch over to renewable energies, there is still a lot of CO2 in the air that we should take care of. One of the ways that have been getting a lot of attention recently is the idea of carbon capture and storage.

While trees and plants continue to be very important natural carbon-capturing mechanisms, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is beyond what they can deal with. So some people have decided to take the basics of natural, biological carbon capture and supercharge it!

They do this by building large facilities with walls of intake fans. They use these fans to pull in air, then expose that air to chemicals or a special filter to isolate the CO2. This is actually a similar technology that is used on spaceships but on a super large scale.

Then the CO2 is compressed so it can be made into a fuel (by mixing it with hydrogen) or so it can be transported via pipelines, or in large tanker trucks to its storage location.

Finally, if the CO2 is being stored it is taken to a place that injects the CO2 into porous rock formations deep underground.

Using these processes mega direct air capture plants can process the same amount of carbon as 14 million trees!

There are of course some issues with carbon capture that need to be sorted out. Firstly it is not extremely efficient yet. Also, there is not currently any method of making sure the carbon stays where we store it, which can make the whole process useless. Lastly, it is worried that carbon capture will be used by the fossil fuels industry to extend the use of fossil fuels.

It’s very important to remember that carbon capture alone won’t fix things. But it is an impressive tool, and one that will hopefully inspire further harnessing of technologies to save the planet!

Learn More

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