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Top Scientist Calls For Radical Technology To Extract Carbon Dioxide From The Air    By Chris Mole - Associate Editor

December 15, 2004

A leading climate scientist believes the only way to avert global warming is to extract carbon dioxide directly from the air and store it underground. Prof Wallace Broecker of Columbia University, New York, believes the Kyoto Protocol won’t work, even if signatory countries succeed in cutting back CO2 emissions, because developing countries such as China and India – which are not parties to Kyoto – will keep increasing emissions.

Dr Broecker says radical new technologies for extracting CO2 directly from the air, liquefying it and then storing it, offer the only realistic hope of preventing catastrophic climate change. He thinks it’s a practical solution and the cost would not be excessive.

US scientists are already working on techniques for extracting CO2 directly from the air, including colleagues of Dr Broecker at Columbia University. He explains the real problem is not capturing CO2 but its eventual storage, as the volumes involved are huge. The world’s annual CO2 output, when liquefied, would be about 25 cubic kilometres.

Dr Broecker believes this can be stored in exhausted oil wells, saltwater aquifers or even at the bottom of the sea, although his preferred option would be to “mineralise” CO2, by absorption into silicon-bearing rock.

While not wanting to belittle the efforts of those behind Kyoto, and moves towards alternative energy and energy conservation, he stresses they will “fall far short of stopping the build-up of CO2.”

Dr Broecker points out developing nations, led by China and India, are growing rapidly and their burgeoning economic development is largely powered by burning coal and other fossil fuels. This will produce a huge increase in CO2 emissions, far outweighing reductions brought about by all the energy conservation and alternative energy schemes of the West.

Dr Broecker was one of the first scientists to sound the alarm about global warming in 1987 when he published a paper in the science journal ‘Nature,’ entitled “Unpleasant Surprises in the Greenhouse?”

Meanwhile another prominent US climate scientist, Daniel Schrag, from Harvard University, believes the biggest challenge surrounding climate change is how to get energy from coal without releasing CO2 to the atmosphere. Schrag stresses even with more widespread use of renewable energy and nuclear power, coal will remain a major source of energy for many decades.

“It’s not a question of whether China, India, and the US will use their vast coal reserves but rather how they will use them. In the rapidly growing economies of China and India, new pulverised coal plants are being built at an alarming rate.”
Schrag sees options on the horizon, including coal gasification technology which produces a concentrated effluent of CO2 easier to capture and store underground.
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