CO2 is also an Ally?
Reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is one way of curbing the threat, but the question is, will this method work out in achieving the 'Net-Zero’ emission goal laid down by the Paris climate agreement? Or will time run out before reaching that goal? Much like the planet, the race towards fighting these emissions is heating up. In this unclear maze of planetary existential crisis, twists and turns could well be the only option of survival or downfall. By that, the same CO2 emissions can also be the protagonist for the very reason that mankind strives to defeat. There can be many solutions to a problem, but in this case turning that problem into a solution, is certainly an industrial commodity to most sectors out there.
Since these emissions are already on a rise, now predicted to increase by five percent to 33 billion tonnes this year, as per IEA’s Global Energy Review 2021, a whole bunch of tech and non-tech firms are experimenting various methods in turning this hazardous acidic colorless gas into a multiple applicative source. One particular idea glistening in the limelight is from the technopreneurial billionaire, Elon Musk, who is also keeping his fans busy on Twitter. His idea is not new, as NASA also unveiled plans of using the emissions that way, yet it could be a new way of turning the table.
The technopreneurial billionaire is pushing ahead for an alternative use of the CO2 emissions by tweeting that SpaceX will blast off with a program to remove these emissions from the atmosphere to use it to power the spacecraft.
“SpaceX is starting a program to take CO2 out of the atmosphere & turn it into rocket fuel”, he tweeted. Using carbon dioxide to power space travel “will also be important for Mars”, he added in a subsequent missive.
We have to sequester carbon at a high rate. The price has already come down dramatically, and as it scales up, I think it’s not unrealistic to think that this is a viable opportunity”, adds Alex
Whereas, Musk is probably one of the most well-known clear power CEOs on the globe, has also announced another idea that involves extracting natural gas to power his Starship aimed at rocketing the folk to the Moon or Mars. The starting point to that goal is firstly set to establish a personal gasoline and electrical energy plant by drilling gas wells in accordance with the Federal Aviation Administration.
However, the FAA document and SpaceX's response to Texas regulators show that, at least in the short term, some of his goals would rely on plans for fossil-fuel extraction and are already attracting criticism from environmental groups. Since Musk has constantly been on the supportive side of electric vehicles and renewable energy, which are considered as effective solutions capable of averting the climate catastrophe that is often the result of heavy reliance on fossil fuels.
Musk may also use drilling to gain experience in the development of carbon dioxide storage wells. SpaceX may have to use carbon capture on Mars to generate fuels for the return journey, so getting the experience right is critical.
Moving on to the next endeavor in using CO2 emissions, NASA has come up with quite a few plans on how it can use these emissions.
NASA has developed a new technology that can convert CO2 into fuel with the help of solar-powered thin-film devices, thereby fabricating metal oxide thin films to produce photoelectrochemical cells powered by solar energy. This is regarded as a new nano-material thin-film device that can be seen as a low-cost fabricated pathway in commercializing the technology for the sustainable energy market. But most importantly it results in a zero carbon footprint by recycling CO2 to fuels and these fuels can be used across every existing fuel utilities.
How this technology works is that it firstly houses a set of photoelectrochemical cells composed of thin-metal oxide film that hires sunlight, visible and infrared and titanium dioxide to nudge the reaction. Additionally this device can also capture CO2 from industrial wastes before it could scurry into the atmosphere and convert it into methane. On the bright side, this device can be found at low-cost in the commercial market. They can also be extremely compact and come handy in sensor and detector applications.
Another successful endeavor by NASA in this space was when it sent its Mars rover to the planet, which accomplished in converting a small amount of CO2 into oxygen. It's only 5.4 gms, enough to keep an astronaut alive for 10 minutes, but it's confirmation that the technology works on Mars. This is encouraging news for the possibility of transporting humans to Mars. On a spacecraft, oxygen takes up a lot of space, and people are unlikely to be able to transport enough with them to Mars. As a result, they might need to extract oxygen from the Martian atmosphere for both breathing and powering rockets to return to Earth.
“Oxygen isn't just the stuff we breathe. Rocket propellant depends on oxygen, and future explorers will depend on producing propellant on Mars to make the trip home”, says Jim Reuter, associate administrator, Space Technology Mission Directorate, NASA.
While conversion is a huge industrial plus point, vacuuming CO2 emissions are viewed as a method of reducing them.
Climeworks, the firm behind it, is one of the few companies that can effectively vacuum the atmosphere of carbon. According to Climeworks policy leader Chris Beuttler, the plant in Switzerland removes roughly 900 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. The facility is a "drop in the bucket," according to Beuttler, but the bucket is growing rapidly as new companies, such as Climeworks, and governments strive to massively expand what is known as direct carbon capture.
Climeworks' technology consists of a box with a large fan on one end and a carbon dioxide-only filter on the other. The air is drawn through the filter by the fan, and the box is closed once the filter is saturated. The carbon dioxide is then released and collected after being heated to 100 degrees Celsius. Carbon captured might be buried underground or sold for other purposes.
Climeworks deployed the Zurich system in 2017 and raised $100 million from Microsoft, Audi, Shopify, and Stripe by 2020. In Iceland, it is now constructing a much larger factory.
Carbon-capture technology has been around for a long but has been deemed too expensive, notes Ken Alex, director of Project Climate at the Center for Law, Energy and Environment at the University of California, Berkeley.
“We have to try to proceed. There’s no choice. We have to sequester carbon at a high rate. The price has already come down dramatically, and as it scales up, I think it’s not unrealistic to think that this is a viable opportunity”, adds Alex.