A Canadian company has developed new technology that it believes can not only suck CO2 out of the air but convert it into liquid fuel and other valuable carbon-based products. If Calgary’s Carbon Engineering’s latest technology lives up to those claims, it could be a significant breakthrough in the race against time that slowing and halting climate change represents.
The glorious summer the UK has enjoyed this year may or may not be more a sinister manifestation of climate change rather than a lucky break for once. What is undeniable, at least according to the independent scientific community, is that the CO2 our intense reliance on fossil fuels as a power source has released into the Earth’s atmosphere since the start of the industrial revolution, is a huge problem.
There are different models and opinions on just how quickly the global warming trend might tip us catastrophically over the point of no return but that drastic action must be taken if we are to stand a chance of averting a global climate catastrophe is not in any real dispute. We are making progress when it comes to low carbon footprint renewable energy’s contribution to global needs and the impending switch to electric cars and other vehicles from petrol engines will also be a huge step in the right direction. However, with a quickly growing global population, intensive agriculture and developing countries increasing their oil consumption means that we are far from out of the woods. There are also fears that we may already have reached tipping point when it comes to the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Sucking CO2 out of the air and turning it back into fuel of course means that fuel would be burnt again, releasing the gas back into the atmosphere. It’s not a problem solver but at least it recycles what is already in the atmosphere rather than adding to it and the second stage of the process means the technology is economically viable. Carbon Engineering’s latest technology reduces the cost of removing a tonne of carbon dioxide from the air to $100 (£78), compared to the $600 (£469) overhead of alternative technologies.
The Canadian company is also not the only one making strides in the area. Climeworks, a Swiss firm, has developed an alternative technology that again sucks CO2 from the atmosphere. Its chosen recycling approach, however, is not to convert it to fuel but to pump it into greenhouses growing vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers. Plants thrive when CO2 levels are increased. This also means the CO2 is not released back into the air. Climeworks also has an installation in Iceland that locks the CO2 underground, compressing it into rock. A little bit like a rapidly accelerated geological process.
The latest technology in the field of extracting CO2 directly from the atmosphere means the process is become gradually more cost effective. While still a niche industry the different technologies being developed, and subsequent ways the carbon dioxide is used or disposed of, shows enough promise to mean that future developments could make it an important tool in the battle against climate change.