Much ado about CO2

Our current series of articles focuses on the issues surrounding atmospheric CO2: from global warming to historical parallels to current policy to new technologies for reduction and conversion…

Much ado about CO2
Part 1- Introduction
Part 2- Historical Precedence
Part 3- Current Policy
Part 4a- Technologies
Part 4b-
Part 5-

Part 1: Baby it’s cold out there…

There were two major storms this past winter that hit Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington D.C., both of which counted as among the top ten heaviest snowfalls ever recorded in these areas. I was fortunate enough to be involved with a Caltech sponsored science-policy field trip to D.C. last December and unfortunate enough to get stranded there during the first of those epic snowstorms.

The (really) White House in December, 2009

Interestingly, my visit overlapped with the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference (AKA the Copenhagen Summit) and our capitol was astir with both hope and reservation. Banners in support of an international agreement on Global Warming issues lined the walls of every Metro stop, temporary monuments were erected in The Mall like humanity’s gravestones, and skeptics convened to protest this perceived overreaction by environmentalists. As I dragged my suitcase through the record-breaking two feet of snow that blanketed the streets on foot (because apparently the Metro likes a good snow-day, too) I wondered, “Where’s this damn Global Warming when you need it?”. Read more.

Part 2: What is your quest?

So the last post was scary, both in length and content. But, seriously, haven’t we been hearing this doom and gloom of global warming for a while? How about we reframe this conversation in a more positive light? Let’s discuss what science is truly capable of accomplishing. Let’s transform CO2 from a problem into a commodity waiting to be used.

What we would like to do is come up with an efficient way to convert the CO2 in our atmosphere into desirable materials (alcohols, plastics, a pony, what have you). We will need to create a market for CO2. The crucial question is: Can we make this cheap, abundant, atmospheric gas valuable? (Come on, there’s a market for reprocessed cow manure—why not CO2?)

We’ll need a) some science b) some policy and c) a way to make the science and the policy play nicely.

Granted, these are daunting tasks with no easily accessible answers. However, there is a historic precedent for converting an atmospheric gas into commodity chemicals. In the current post, we will take a look at this example to gain a little perspective on what needs to be done in order to exploit the untapped value of CO2. Read more.

Part 3: Poking the Policy Bear…

In our first post we discussed the general issues of carbon dioxide(CO2), climate change and stated the dire need for new technologies to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. We followed with a more positive second post that illustrated how a massive effort could succeed in converting another inert gas nitrogen(N2) into useful chemicals. Before we delve into some of the emerging technologies for carbon sequestration and conversion, we thought it appropriate to look at our nation’s past and current climate change policy as well as the international policies in place.

When I started researching U.S. and global policy on CO2 I thought that I’d look up the wording of some major bills, find out which agencies are involved and try to quantify how much funding is going where. I figured I would then bundle up all of this information into a concise and cleverly worded report that could be easily understood by all of our readers and provide a launch-pad for some interesting debates. Oh, how naïve was I…

First off, it’s no wonder that most politicians hold advanced degrees in law; a simple scientist sorting through some of these documents is akin to a drunk four-year old trying to assemble Ikea furniture with a manual written in Klingon… Read more.

Part 4a: I’ll tell you where you can stick your carbon …

Did you have fun poking the policy bear?

We hope so! But, now that we’ve gotten that out of our system, we’re going to talk a little science. Specifically, we’re going to talk about the state of CO2 technologies. Because we here at ScienceGeist looooove science, we are going to break this monstrous discussion into two parts. (“Woooohoooo,” says the nerdy scientist typing this. Don’t fight it, dear reader! Embrace your inner-geek… Read more.

8 Responses to Much ado about CO2

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    This is my first time I visit here. I found some interesting stuff in your post, though I find that this piece would be greatly enhanced by a brief summary of the key issues, including some schemes. A picture is worth a 1000 words! I am sure that my old friend RJKT would approve!

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