We recycle old newspapers and empty cans and bottles — so why not our carbon dioxide?
Scientists have long viewed carbon dioxide (CO2) as a primary cause of climate change. A byproduct of burning fossil fuels to power our cars, heat our homes, and produce our food, CO2 holds in heat like a blanket, warming our planet. Plants and oceans absorb some of it, but we’re generating so much that it’s overwhelming the natural carbon cycle.
In 1989, MIT researchers began developing a process to collect CO2 emissions from power plants and factory smokestacks, and then inject them into subterranean rock formations where they could be stashed. Carbon capture and sequestration has proven problematic and expensive, yet attempts continue.
With new technology, the focus is now shifting to recycling captured CO2. Scientists hope to someday extract the carbon and recombine it with hydrogen from water to make hydrocarbons, such as gasoline, that we can reuse.
Other concepts include employing the carbon to form renewable methanol or converting CO2 into a biofuel — essentially pulling fuel out of thin air.
Ironically, these processes require a lot of energy, which ideally would come from renewable sources.
At the same time, innovative ecologists are looking to enhance the natural carbon cycle through “carbon farming.” Replanting trees and restoring wetlands are simple and obvious options, as both hold and recycle carbon.
No-till agriculture, careful animal grazing, and use of compost instead of fertilizers could also support the earth in capturing carbon and reducing the amount of methane and other potent greenhouse gases that are being released into the atmosphere.
This originally appeared as “Carbon Recycling 101” in the October 2018 print issue of Experience Life.