Vacuum Up Greenhouse Gases?

Everybody’s always talking about reducing greenhouse gas emissions. What you don’t hear so often is a suggestion to clean up what’s already there. How would you do that? Good question! And it’s the question that Virgin Earth Challenge is posing to the world. Come up with a commercially viable way to remove a billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere per year, and win $25 million.

The five-year challenge was announced February 9 by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, with Al Gore. The judges, among them several eminent scientists, will meet annually to evaluate submissions. At the end of five years, if no one has won the prize, they’ll decide whether to extend the challenge another five years.

Sound impossible? Well, in fact, it is possible. It turns out that CO2 is absorbed into any alkaline (or non-acidic) material. The problem is making the absorption fast and efficient enough that it’s commercially viable.

So, wanna save the world and win $25 million in a single bound? Check out the Virgin Earth Challenge.

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  1. kroothaan
    Posted February 15, 2007 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    Let me see if I understand this as stated. A prize of 25 million dollars is being offered to any individual who can find a way to remove 1 billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere every year. The process needs to be commercially viable and presumably not morally abhorrent, thereby excluding mass murder and subsequently using the corpses as tree fertilizer.
    My initial response was that there should be more prizes (of a smaller size) offered. After all, increased CO2 levels come from a diversity of sources so perhaps the problem needs to be broken into smaller components.
    Rereading the challenge made me rethink my original response, when I realized that the process sought was not really aimed at changing human behavior, but at cleaning up the consequences of that behavior.
    Until we radically change our relationship to Earth and Her resources we will find ourselves destroying Her. Another technological quick fix may delay the payback for some individuals, but at some point we need to learn how to stop.
    Keeping Global Warming in the hands of “scientific experts” is just one more way to keep the general public misinformed, frightened, and helpless.
    Perpetual motion machines violate the laws of physics, but people still patent them because they are thinking wishfully. Technological fixes for CO2 emissions remind me of perpetual motion machines, not because they are scientifically impossible but because I believe there is an upper limit to the carrying capacity of our environment.
    A quick look at the human population growth curve and an understanding of logistic growth suggests that we may be near the inflection point, after which population increase starts to slow.
    Mathematics does not tell us how this reduced rate of growth is accomplished. Famine, disease, intraspecific aggression, flood, and fire may all play their parts. The model, like all models, oversimplifies the situation, but if we do not accept that limits to growth exist we will have the truth forced on us at a most inconvenient time.
    If this contest is won and the process is used to help us bridge to a future that truly brings Earth back into balance I will be happy. Right now I am worried that the winning process will simply be one more reason to believe that comprehensive action is not needed.

  2. Posted February 16, 2007 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    I agree that the most important thing is changing human behavior. But if people find other ways to cut CO2 pollution, that’s great, too — when the ship is sinking, you don’t worry what color the life preserver is!