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Sucking CO2 from the skies

artificial trees columbia university sodium carbonate

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#1 Hum

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Posted 04 October 2012 - 15:38

It may be a colourless, odourless and completely natural gas, but carbon dioxide is beginning to cause us a lot of problems. It only makes up a tiny fraction of the atmosphere (0.04% of all the gas by volume – or 395 parts per million) but it has a huge effect on the Earth’s temperature. That's because unlike nitrogen or oxygen, carbon dioxide molecules absorb the Sun's heat rays even though they let light rays pass through, like a greenhouse.

Scientists are looking at ways to modulate the global temperature by removing some of this greenhouse gas from the air. If it works, it would be one of the few ways of geoengineering the planet with multiple benefits, beyond simply cooling the atmosphere.

Every time we breathe out, we emit carbon dioxide just like all other metabolic life forms. Meanwhile, photosynthetic organisms like plants and algae take in carbon dioxide and emit oxygen. This balance has kept the planet at a comfortably warm average temperature of 14C (57F), compared with a chilly -18C (0F) if there were no carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Klaus Lackner, director of the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy at Columbia University, has come up with a technique that he thinks could solve the problem. Lackner has designed an artificial tree that passively soaks up carbon dioxide from the air using “leaves” that are 1,000 times more efficient than true leaves that use photosynthesis.

"We don't need to expose the leaves to sunlight for photosynthesis like a real tree does," Lackner explains. "So our leaves can be much more closely spaced and overlapped – even configured in a honeycomb formation to make them more efficient."

The leaves look like sheets of papery plastic and are coated in a resin that contains sodium carbonate, which pulls carbon dioxide out of the air and stores it as a bicarbonate (baking soda) on the leaf. To remove the carbon dioxide, the leaves are rinsed in water vapour and can dry naturally in the wind, soaking up more carbon dioxide.

Lackner calculates that his tree can remove one tonne of carbon dioxide a day. Ten million of these trees could remove 3.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year – equivalent to about 10% of our global annual carbon dioxide emissions. "Our total emissions could be removed with 100 million trees," he says, "whereas we would need 1,000 times that in real trees to have the same effect."

If the trees were mass produced they would each initially cost around $20,000 (then falling as production takes over).

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#2 chrisj1968

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Posted 04 October 2012 - 15:42

this is the truth of geo engineering. it's supposed to cool the planet? putting metals into our air... is making us all sick.



#3 f0rk_b0mb

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Posted 04 October 2012 - 15:42

We need to do this so we can save our planet for future generations. I can honestly see this happening--they could put a farm of these things out in the desert.

#4 jkenn99

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Posted 04 October 2012 - 15:49

It would be cheaper to plant 1000 trees than 1 of these things. Real trees also have the benefit of reproducing themselves, creating natural habitat for wildlife, and are aesthetically pleasing.
Building these abominations makes no sense.

#5 ahhell

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Posted 04 October 2012 - 15:51

this is the truth of geo engineering. it's supposed to cool the planet? putting metals into our air... is making us all sick.


Pssst. Your crazy is showing.

#6 OP Hum

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Posted 04 October 2012 - 15:52

I read that a slightly higher CO2 level would be beneficial for plants.


In the future when oxygen levels are lowered, countries will plant millions of trees.