Imagine No Restrictions on Fossil-Fuel Usage and No Global Warming! (EH Update)

Journal of Environmental Health, November 2002 | Go to article overview
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Imagine No Restrictions on Fossil-Fuel Usage and No Global Warming! (EH Update)


Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory are studying a simple, cost-effective method of extracting carbon dioxide directly from the air. The method could allow sustained use of fossil fuels without global climate change.

Researchers would harvest carbon dioxide from the air, reducing buildup of the so-called "greenhouse gas" in the atmosphere and allowing it to be converted into fuel.

Los Alamos researcher Manvendra Dubey says that "Fossil fuel supplies are plentiful, and what will limit the usage of fossil fuels is the potential climatic and ecosystem changes you may see as a result of rising [CO.sub.2] levels in the atmosphere. If you can capture atmospheric carbon dioxide, then you limit the environmental impact of fossil fuels."

While many scientists are working on capturing or sequestering carbon, the method being explored by Dubey and his colleagues differs because it works on a dilute stream of [CO.sub.2] in the atmosphere as opposed to capturing more concentrated forms found in power plant exhausts. The method uses ordinary air with its average carbon dioxide concentration of about 370 parts per million, and it is the only means available of capturing [CO.sub.2] generated from transportation sources and the small, dispersed sources that account for nearly half of all carbon dioxide emissions.

The method works as follows: Wind and natural mixing transport [CO.sub.2] to a removal site. The air is passed over an extraction agent (e.g., a solution of quicklime, the active agent in some cements). As the air passes over the extraction structure, the carbon dioxide in the air reacts with the quicklime and becomes converted to calcium carbonate (limestone), a solid that falls to the bottom of the extractor.

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Imagine No Restrictions on Fossil-Fuel Usage and No Global Warming! (EH Update)
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