Can you pull a climate solution from thin air?

 So much attention is given to cutting back the amount of NEW carbon dioxide we emit into the atmosphere that it’s easy to overlook the CO2 that’s already there. But, a team of scientists at George Washington Univeresity is trying to do something about existing atmospheric CO2 concentrations. They found a way to pull the CO2 out of the air and turn it into carbon nanofibers (which are in demand by carbon composite consumers like manufacturers of airplanes, sports equipment, and wind turbine blades).

Unlike carbon capture and storage (CCS), this method takes carbon out of the air and turns it into a useful product that is very in-demand, whereas CCS ctually creates its own set of issues (namely, where to store all of that CO2). The electrochemical process in question only uses a few volts of electricity, sunlight, and carbon dioxide, making the cost of conversion less than 1% of the current market value of the product created, according to Dr. Stuart Licht. He also estimates that with a land area less than 10% of the size of the Sahara Desert, his team could remove enough CO2 from the atmosphere to bring us back to pre-industrial CO2 concentrations in under 10 years. That is quite a promise!! Think of the tremendously positive impact that technology could have on our planet’s wellbeing (and the wellbeing of the millions around the globe already seeing the impacts of climate change).

As amazing as this feat would be (and as important as this technology could be in slowing – or halting – the progression of climate change), it would not be a panacea that negates the need for other action. With growing populations and the resulting growing demand for energy (particularly in developing and industrializing countries), CO2 emissions could still outpace our ability to sequester and convert them – simply delaying the urgency of our current predicament. We still need to transition to cleaner fuels and try to reduce our per capita demand for energy so that our needs can be met in a more sustainable way (for all countries).

But admittedly, this technology – if effective – could be truly amazing: it could give us the bump we need to confront climate change head on instead of frantically trying to catch up. I’m very eager to see if Dr. Licht’s team is able to deliver these seemingly too-good-to-be-true results.

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