Sunday, August 24, 2008

CO2 Sponge

Klaus Lackner, scientist at Columbia University, seeks to create a "synthetic tree" that can do in about 30 minutes what would naturally take 100,000 years to accomplish: get carbon dioxide levels down and avert a climate crisis.

The idea for the air extraction or "air capture" technology in these synthetic trees came to Lackner while working on his daughter, Claire, on her middle school science project.

Here is an excerpt from a fairly recent interview Lackner gave to Breakthrough Institute:

How did you first become interested in air capture technology?

My daughter Claire's school science fair project in 1999 helped me quantify a few things I had been wondering about air capture. She wanted to see if she could scrub carbon dioxide out of the air. So we went to the pet store, bought at aquarium pump, and bubbled air through a solution of calcium hydroxide and sodium hydroxide, and let it bubble all through the night. In the morning she poured acid in and measured the amount carbon dioxide that would come off. It turned out she'd collected about half the carbon dioxide that had passed through the pump.

From there, you went on to develop the first successful air capture prototype. Is this something that's ready to be commercialized?

We developed a pre-prototype that shows that all the pieces of this system work. Within two to four years it should be ready to be commercialized. The first time around it's always too expensive, but every time you do it, it gets a little cheaper. I think in the long term, the cost of capturing carbon dioxide from air will not be terribly different from conventional flue gas scrubbing, about $30 per ton of carbon dioxide, which corresponds to about 25 cents on the gallon.

Word on the street is that critics find it to be too labor intensive and costly, but if you ask me, you can't put a price on offsetting almost all of our carbon footprints. I hope Lackner and Claire keep working on it.

For more from Lackner, check out another interview with npr here:

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