Geoengineering Carbon

Correspondent Josh Zepps tells us about innovations for cleaning up the carbon dioxide that’s already in the atmosphere. Scientists at Columbia University have developed a kind of “artificial leaf” that can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere faster than actual trees. It can be re-purposed, for carbonated drinks, dry ice, even a replacement for gasoline.

Zepps interviews Ken Caldeira, an atmospheric scientist with the Carnegie Institution at Stanford University, who says it will tace decades to clean up the excess carbon dioxide that’s heating up the atmosphere. But Allen Wright and Klaus Lackner of the Earth Institute’s Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy at Columbia University may have an answer: A type of plastic “leaf” that soaks up carbon dioxide from the air — about one ton a day for a piece the size of a large tree. To release the CO2, they the wet the plastic and catch the bubbles. Allen says the carbon dioxide can be used to create a synthetic gasoline that’s carbon neutral because its emissions can be soaked up again.

The big challenge to deploying these synthetic trees isn’t technological, but financial. The researchers say the technology has to be profitable, and for that, they need to be able to sell the carbon dioxide to industry at a competitive price. But they also believe synthetic trees would get a bigger boost if the government taxed carbon dioxide emissions.