Capturing carbon dioxide from the air would be a terrific way to reduce the causes of climate change, if we ever find a way to do it effectively. Then you could waste all the gas you wanted, leave the air conditioner on 24 hours a day, eat meat imported from halfway around the globe, and still sleep peacefully in your drafty house with single-pane glass and uninsulated attic. Sure you'd be throwing away lots of money, but that's your right, as long as you don't ruin the rest of the planet while you're at it.
Unfortunately, according to a study by the American Physical Society (note: Physics Central and Physics Buzz are produced by the APS), all the carbon capture technologies we know of are way too expensive to be useful today. Best estimates are that it would cost about $600 per ton to collect carbon dioxide from the air. Considering that the average US household produces 7.5 tons of carbon dioxide a year, that's $4500 every family would have to shell out every year just to cover their own emissions.
On the bright side (I think), it occurred to me that there are already plenty of living things that capture carbon dioxide, including all plants and trees. Trees in particular are mostly carbon, and often weigh a few tons at full size. All I'd have to do to be carbon neutral is chop down enough trees to equal my carbon load each year, then encase them in concrete and drop them in the ocean, or perhaps toss them into a defunct salt mine. As long as they don't rot and no one burns them, they will take a lot of carbon out of the air. I figure it could probably do that for a lot less than $600 per ton.
So, here's the gist of today's problem: is it feasible to grow, harvest, and permanently dispose of trees to pull carbon out of the air? For simplicity, I'm only going to worry about the average US household carbon load. I'll post my solution to the problem tomorrow. Stay tuned to find out if I've saved the planet!!
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Posted by Buzz Skyline at 1:42 PM