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A tiny Swiss company thinks it can help stop climate change (nytimes.com)
225 points by pseudolus 39 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 187 comments



It is an important technology, but it will not really help right now.

It will always be cheaper to prevent creation of CO2 (burning fossil fuels) than to catch CO2 back from the atmosphere.

So, the first thing we need to do is to move to completely carbon emission free technology of energy production. Then we can perhaps produce more than we need (e.g. in the peaks) and can start thinking about catching some CO2 back from the atmosphere to reverse the climate changes.

Unfortunately, there is not even global consensus on getting to zero emissions. In this situation, I can't imagine how there can be a consensus on doing something (like utilizing this technology) on the mass scale that helps to save the environment for free.


I don't think it's a given that it will always be cheaper to avoid emissions. Long-haul air travel, for example, isn't likely to go electric anytime soon, and it could well be that the cheapest option is to absorb their emissions from the air and inject them into the ground, rather than producing carbon-neutral jet fuel.

If this technology really does get down to $94/ton, then a $100/ton price on carbon emissions is likely to give it a role. People can reduce emissions whenever it costs less than $94/ton to do so, and if it costs more, they could pay for absorption instead.

$100/ton CO2 would raise the price of gasoline by a dollar a gallon, which doesn't seem all that unattainable, especially if the collected funds are redistributed as a dividend.


Or add 100 dollars to the average cost of a NY-London flight, from my quick calculations. Flights would go up 50-200 dollars each way. That's not the end of the world.


This figure doesn't take into account radiative forcing which makes that 1 ton figure act more like 3 or 4 tons in actual heating capability. Airline offset programs always ignore this (in addition to way under pricing carbon offsets because that market is mostly scams built around green guilt).

Even at $100 a ton, you're talking a few hundred of dollars of price increases to offset damages. This probably reduces the number of people flying which of course raise the per capita damage and therefore cost even more.


How does it raise the per capita damage?

Airlines are only profitable if they fly at high load factors. If price increases reduce the number of passengers flying, the airlines will try to fly fewer planes that are just as full as today. Thus the per passenger cost is the same.

(... based on a consulting project I did 20 years ago on airline network economics/route capacity optimization)


> $100/ton CO2 would raise the price of gasoline by a dollar a gallon

I need to check that number... according to https://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/co2-emission-fuels-d_1085..., there is 9.20 kg CO2 released per gallon gasoline. So a dollar per gallon would be $100 per 920 kgCO2, close enough to a metric ton. OK :-)


Currently, up to around 50% as much CO2 is produced making and transporting a gallon of gasoline as from burning a gallon of gasoline.

Some of that would be mitigated, but it’s probably closer to 1.30$ vs 1$ a gallon.


California LCFS credits are at around $200/ton, so if $94/ton is achievable they'll make quite a bit of money.

https://www.arb.ca.gov/fuels/lcfs/credit/lrtweeklycreditrepo...


Eventually I expect we'll use renewable power to produce carbon neutral synthetic liquid hydrocarbon fuel for long-range transportation.


> it could well be that the cheapest option is to absorb their emissions from the air and inject them into the ground, rather than producing carbon-neutral jet fuel

I am not sure if you want to capture carbon or just CO2. If you want just to capture CO2, that's a different consideration but there is AFAIK no scalable technology that can store CO2 reliably.

So what you need to do is to actually break the C-O bonds in CO2, which is very energy expensive.

In theory you could burn methane (natural gas) or other hydrocarbon in system (airplane) A, producing more energy than needed by system (factory) B, which would recapture carbon from the air and convert it to pure carbon. That way, you would produce net energy by burning hydrogen into water (methane and carbon, respectively, are the most efficient choices for this).

Somebody can calculate it precisely based on the enthalpy, I am sure, but it seems to me that the both systems together would have to be at least 40% efficient (that is the product of their energy efficiencies would have to be that) for this to be energy positive. I don't think anybody has demonstrated this level of efficiency yet, and it might well be impossible (if we also consider the dispersal of CO2 in the atmosphere, as somebody else has noted).

Assuming this is possible (unlikely), in practice this would also require the operator of the system A to pay (at least) the cost of energy used by the operator of system B for the recaptured carbon. And this can be a practical problem, because people cheat in various ways and they would probably lobby to pay less at the expense of the environment. It seems much more transparent solution is just to forbid drilling for hydrocarbons outright.

That's why one should be careful about using dollars for these calculations. All externalities are rarely counted in costs. It is easy to fool yourself or other humans this way, however, the nature cannot be fooled.


It looks like the most promising idea for sequestering CO2 (rather than C) is injecting it into basalt formations, where it turns into minerals in a year or so. So far it's been tested in Iceland and Washington State, with promising results. Basalt is widespread so this could be very scalable. But it does use a lot of water; I don't know whether salt water would work.

https://www.futurity.org/basalt-carbon-storing-conversion-17...

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-43789527


It doesn’t have to be energy positive if the energy used for capture comes from a non-carbon-emitting source.


But if you're pulling the CO2 from the air anyway, why not just use the extracted carbon as fuel rather than pull it out of the ground?


Because you'll have to use energy to separate C from O2, and more energy to get hydrogen from water, so you can put them together and make hydrocarbons. One of these companies is planning to do exactly that, but with a price on carbon it might be cheaper to use fossil and pump captured CO2 underground. (I'm not saying it will be, just that it's not obvious either way.)



Because CO2 isn’t petroleum, or any other hydrocarbon, and that’s what you need. It’s not easy, nor cost effective, to convert it.


Cost. The average American family uses 24 metric tons a year (at least as of 2007, but we're ball-parking here) [1]. The article says it's $500 - $600 to extract 1 metric ton of CO2.

(24 metric tons * $550/metric ton) / 12 months = $1,110 per month.

That's $1,100 for raw CO2. Once you factor in CO2 => fuel, then transport, delivery, etc. your cost is dramatically higher.

Suppose scale could help and the entire process were $1,110 per month. For for most of us, that's still much more than we pay each month in electricity + gas.

1. http://blogs.edf.org/climate411/2007/02/20/picturing-a-ton-o...


According to the World Bank, America produced 16.5 tons of CO2 per person in 2014. Germany produced 8.9 tons per person, Britain produced 6.5 tons, France produced 4.6 tons and Switzerland produced 4.3 tons.

Can we all agree that 16.5 tons per person is an absurdly large amount of CO2?

https://databank.worldbank.org/data/reports.aspx?source=2&se...


Doesn’t help that so many in the US have no realistic choice for transportation beyond an automobile.

I’m a 90 minute walk from the nearest bus station, I work from home luckily (and have no license either) but my wife has to drive literally everywhere. We bought a used 2006 Prius now almost four years ago, so we’ve reduced our emissions as much as is feasible for now - but we still use roughly 300 gallons of fuel a year at 40MPG average.


The parent comment was about airplanes. The argument was that batteries are too heavy and that airplanes will still need to run on hydrocarbon fuel. And the argument the parent made is: you burn the fuel in the airplane engine and then sequester it later. And my response is: ok, but if you're sequestering carbon anyway, then use carbon you just sequestered instead of burning new carbon. You didn't understand my point.


It still makes a difference when you move the CO2 to the stratosphere, which is what you essentially do here. I'm not sure we've run the models on this (without the rest of the changes), so I don't know at what point it becomes a problem, but we should keep this in mind.


> So, the first thing we need to do is to move to completely carbon emission free technology of energy production. Then we can perhaps produce more than we need (e.g. in the peaks) and can start thinking about catching some CO2 back from the atmosphere to reverse the climate changes.

We should be doing both in parallel. The article talks about this:

"Last year’s I.P.C.C. report noted that it may be impossible to limit warming to 1.5 degrees by 2100 through only a rapid switch to clean energy, electric cars and the like. To preserve a livable environment we may also need to extract CO₂ from the atmosphere. As Wurzbacher put it, “if you take all these numbers from the I.P.C.C., you end up with something like eight to 10 billion tons — gigatons — of CO₂ that need to be removed from the air every year, if we are serious about 1.5 or 2 degrees.” "


No, we should have started going carbon neutral in the 1980's when the science case for precautionary was solid.

It is only given that carbon industry got us to ignore the dangers for more than thirty years that we now are so desperate to keep inside the carbon budget that even very inefficient solutions like carbon capture are seriously being considered.


The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.


Speaking of trees, massive reforestation could be one way to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere. As a bonus, you end up with a lot of lumber you can use for things like buildings.


My country has a holiday where the children plant trees every year.


Maybe there could be a holiday where children and adults plant trees every month or every week!


No idea why you're being downvoted. I think everything you said is supported by strong evidence.


I'm not sure its reasonable to require such a massive upheaval as a precaution. Remember those 'X causes cancer' articles, should we phase out everything implicated, as a precaution?

I agree we should have moved earlier, and we should be moving faster though.


“present thinking holds that man has a time window of five to 10 years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical."

Exxon's senior scientist, 1978.

"Victory will be achieved when: (a)Average citizens "understand" (recognize) uncertainties in climate science; recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the "conventional wisdom" ... (e) Those promoting the Kyoto treaty on the basis of extant science appear out of touch with reality" (American Petroleum Institute memo, 1998)

“Doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public” (B&W tobacco company 1969).

https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/attach/2015/07/Th...


What's a tobacco company quote got to do with anything?

The parent was talking about the precautionary principle. Im not really old enough to remember the 1980s global warming debate, so not agreeing or disagreeing with the factuality of that statement. Yes your first quote is damning, are you saying the science was more settled?


Yes the science was settled, well the direction we needed to go in (decarbonisation) was clear, just not the speed or extent - there were bigger error bars. As figure 1 in the link shows, things went the other way.

The NYT published a good history of how settled the science was, but I'm going to link to a response to it: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/08/nyt-mag-...


> Remember those 'X causes cancer' articles, should we phase out everything implicated, as a precaution?

This is a problem with how the media reports science, not science itself. It's why so many people believe that scientists thought we were going to have an ice age 30 years ago: awful reporting.

And back then, the upheaval wouldn't have been nearly as massive. There was less 'wealth' (read as 'carbon usage') and fewer people. It's a real pity.


It's bad reporting in the sense of, it's only one study, but if you follow the precautionary principle it surely becomes logical to ban, then investigate further?


It is certainly cheaper to stop smoking than cure lung cancer, if that is what you mean.


What I mean is should we be banning smoking on the basis of one study?

If a study does show a link then you repeat it, get more data, work out the extent of the problem. Then you have the info to make decent public policy.

And banning smoking something that's fairly easy to do, that isn't spending billions of $s of public funds, telling people they can't fly,drive,eat meat. And we still havent banned smoking.


> if we are serious about 1.5 or 2 degrees.

Hint: We're not.

The Americans are expecting +4C https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/trump...


I think that the point is that if, today, you could spend $100 on pulling 1 ton of CO2 from the air, or spend $100 on green energy which prevents 2 tons of CO2 going into the air, the second is more important, even if we need to be extracting CO2 from the air.

There's no point in extracting 1 ton of CO2 and putting 2 tons of CO2 back up there.


I might be mistaken about this, but it puzzles me when people confidently state that people should NOT approach the problem from this angle. I feel like there is a great deal of uncertainty in this problem space and any genuine attempt to solve should be welcome.


Direct air capture is already _theoretically_ inefficient due to dilution effects of climate gasses. Just imagine all the natural ressources that will be embodied in just these direct-air-capture machines!

It is important that we think about lowering emissions first and foremost. Thinking "ah well, let's continue as usual, we'll fix it sometime later with <insert unproven technology>" is hella dangerous and most likely won't work:

We're fucking with a planetary climate system powered by the sun after all. The forces and scales at work there easily escape one's imagination...


Exactly, it’s called experimentation! The above comment is equivalent to someone telling Bosch to quit because that ammonia capture process too expensive...


The difference is that ammonia is expensive, you can sell the ammonia (or something produced with ammonia) to make fertilizers or explosives or something. There is a market for ammonia.

When you capture CO2, what you can make? Some liquid like oil or gas that can be burn. Some solid like coal that can be burn. Some rock like limestone or marble that is more expensive than the natural one. You can't sell the products.

A big chunk of the man made CO2 is in power plants. It's not a good idea to burn oil to produce energy and CO2, and then use a bigger amount of energy to transform the CO2 into something that is easy to store like oil.

Perhaps you can use less energy to transform the CO2 into something like coal instead of oil, but in this case it would more efficient to make a new type of power plant that transform oil into a coal like product.

(Essentially burn the Hydrogen in the oil and keep the Carbons alone. I'm not sure if this is thermodynamically posible, but IIRC the C-H bound has more energy that the C-C bound. And even if this is possible, there are the technological problems.)


CO2 has some commercial uses too (greenhouses, chemical industry), so they can actually sell some of it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_dioxide#Agricultural_an...

Carbon Capture - like every single other measure - won't save the climate alone but it can be a useful element in those situations where there is so much solar/wind in the grid that you need some extra consumers to not waste it. Research in that area definitely is useful, in the end it will come down to the actual prices they can achieve in reality.


The answer is to fine CO2 emissions to the point where carbon capture makes a killing.


This is the primary fallacy in this domain: Getting to zero emissions will not bring atmospheric CO2 down by 100 ppm for at least 50,000 to 75,000 years. Full stop.

This is scientific fact BTW.

I’ll go further than that: If we erased humanity and all we have built from planet earth on Monday —Captain Kirk beams everything into space and we all die— it would still be 50,000 to 75,000 years before CO2 levels drop by 100 ppm.

Again, scientific facts. No doubt at all that what I just said is true. Irrefutable.

In this very real context the only solutions will be found in technology that can consume CO2 in large quantities and hold on to it for as long as possible.

Here’s another scientific truth: We already have this technology. It is easy to deploy world-wide and we know it to be effective.

Even with that, this is a problem that will require generations to resolve; with a time scale in the thousands of years being likely.

This is an issue that has been politicized so far —on both ends of the belief scale— that most everyone is focusing on nonsense politically-driven non-solutions rather than having true science-based conversations.


Small comment. For anything with dynamics this complex, science doesn't provide what can be fairly called 'facts', just projections based on current understanding. Other than that quibble I agree with your comment.


Fair comment. The data I am relying on is based on ice core sampling at the poles. We know, to a very high degree of certainty, what our atmosphere did for the last 800,000 years.

Taking this as to be my factual basis it is very easy to see what the planet has done and will do without humanity being around to muck things up. In rough strokes, atmospheric CO2 accumulates at a rate of about 100 ppm per 25,000 years and is reduced at a rate of, again, roughly, 100 ppm per 50,000 to 75,000 years.

This forms the basis of my assertion that erasing the entirety of humanity, our buildings and toys would only result in a 100 ppm reduction in 50K to 75K years. In other words, as far as a human scale is concerned, this might as well be forever. We might not even exist in 75,000 years.

The only way this assertion could be refuted is if someone is able to prove there is a way to take a planet-scale system and accelerate it's natural rate of atmospheric CO2 accumulation decay from 100 ppm per 75K years to something fast enough to be of practical significance to humanity.

Well, I suppose the other way to refute it would be to prove that our ice core sample data is fake or flawed in some manner. That will not happen. This quality and veracity of this data is well supported in the literature and accepted to be extremely accurate.

Without even attempting any math at all we can say the amount of energy required to accelerate planetary-scale effects from 100 ppm/75K years to, say, 100 ppm/100 years is likely astronomical in scale. And that much energy is rarely without consequences.

Remember, if we evaporate from this planet nothing changes faster than 100 ppm/50K years at best. In order to prove de-industrializing and crippling entire nations and continents would have any merit at all someone has to prove the physics and chemistry that would deliver the desired 100 ppm change in atmospheric CO2 concentration massively faster than 50K to 75K years.

This is why I am really down on the entire Climate Change business. It's a political football. Deniers are crazy and so are proponents or believers (at least politicians). They things they are talking about doing are utterly pointless and would only serve to damage countries and societies.

I mean, let's say we absolutely erase the United States from the face of the planet. Why just try to go "green", let's completely erase the US from earth. What would that accomplish? Absolutely nothing. Atmospheric CO2 concentration would continue to rise exponentially at about the same rate. It certainly isn't going to go down at all. So, what are these proponents talking about? Well, nonsense, that's what they are talking about. It has become a political tool with religious undertones on both sides.

I also spoke of us already having a technology that could be brought to bear on this issue world wide with relative ease. The questions to ask when looking at ice core atmospheric sample data are:

1- What made CO2 concentration increase? 2- What made it decrease.

The answers are simple:

1- Fires. Massive continent-scale fires. No firemen and water dropping helicopters to stop them.

2- Weather and trees. Water precipitates CO2. So, hurricanes, cyclones, storms, rains are good. They "wash" the atmosphere. And over tens of thousands of years they'd chip away at the problem.

And trees, well, trees take CO2 and turn it into, well, trees! They are a fantastic bit of technology that only requires water and soil to work! And we know how to grow trees at scale!

So, instead of a lot of the nonsense being floated out there what we have to do is:

1- Control or stop deforestation. This is terrible for the planet.

2- Plant trees like our lives depend on it. All of these lawns in front of homes in a city like Los Angeles are almost criminal when you consider they do nothing but waste water and require a guy with a gasoline powered mower and blower to maintain every week. We need to seriously consider changing the culture to plant a couple of trees in front of every home of every city wherever possible. Our cities need to look like forests to the extent possible. And there you go, CO2 sequestration using the very same technology the planet has probably used for millions of years to achieve the same kind of balance.

Anyhow, that's my humble opinion.


> It will always be cheaper to prevent creation of CO2 (burning fossil fuels) than to catch CO2 back from the atmosphere.

Maybe. But the politics could be totally different. Scrubbing would not be perceived as suppressing the activities of an existing industry. Hopefully, therefore, huge sectors of the existing economy would not mobilize against it the way they have against proposals to suppress CO2 output.


One problem from the fossil fuel industry's perspective is that, while scrubbing doesn't suppress their activity, doing it is essentially an admission that there's a carbon problem. And once you do that, you give up the protection that controversy and doubt affords you, and people might start demanding more extreme measures to curb carbon.

Paying people to spread misinformation that maintains controversy and doubt (e.g. https://cei.org/ , who also helped maintain doubt surrounding the link between smoking and cancer) is far cheaper than the reckoning that could eventually result from admitting that carbon is a problem.


This claim definitely feels like a fact not in evidence. I have not seen any number for the cost to society to completely transition from CO2 creating activities and move to a CO2 negative state. Because that is what it is going to take to prevent climate change at this point. A reduction in CO2 isn't going to cut it.

I would guess that cost is much higher than they think.


I suspect large groups would organize to prevent spending 100+ Billion per year. Which would still make an insignificant change assuming we continue to produce CO2.

The scale of CO2 emissions are hard to conceive. You see human heath effects in areas with poor ventilation from high CO2 levels, but as CO2 rises what constitutes poor ventilation changes. At current rates even ignoring climate changes old buildings will start to cause headaches from high CO2 levels. Buildings built at 275ppm are generally still fine at 400ppm, but that changes as you keep going.


One thing we can do is try to hire more remote workers. Each person that doesn’t need to drive everyday is someone who doesn’t need to emit carbon every day


Remote work also enables low-density and rural living, which is far more carbon-intensive than urban environments. You may just turn someone taking the subway to work into someone taking their SUV to the grocery store, and heating/cooling their far larger house with four walls exposed to the outside.


Is that really true. Perhaps comparing like for like but the last figures I saw showed 50% of the population live in cities but 70% of the emissions come from cities.


It is not as clear cut and may be different with first-world economies and developing ones.

In developing ones cities are typically wealthiest more -> CO2 emissions due to higher standard of living.

In first-world cities are more efficient.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2009/mar/23/city-dwe...


While in principle I agree with you. Home food delivery is becoming a thing, houses can be insulated, and country doesn't have to equal bigger house etc.

I'm thinking European levels of rural, where food delivery is possible, don't know if it would be doable at US rural levels though.


Delivery is just someone producing CO2 coming to you instead of you producing CO2 going to them.


That is true if deliveries are made one at a time, but if a delivery truck is making multiple deliveries at a time and makes an attempt to optimize it's route there would be less CO2 produced.


People can just, you know, not go to the grocery store every day.


Pets contribute more co2 than most people. Taking care of your friends and family more than a furball may be a good alternative too.


Pets do NOT contribute more co2 than most people. https://www.theverge.com/2017/8/4/16094674/cats-dogs-meat-di...

Pets do contribute surprisingly a lot of CO2 when you add them up, based on their meat consumption. But it's less than what a human would consume in meat and especially a lot less when you add how much humans transport themselves around.


> Taking care of your friends and family more than a furball

For many people, pets are family. How do they contribute more co2 than most people, anyway, when they rarely drive?


Do you have more info on this? It seems counterintuitive on the face of it, my dog doesn't take a lot of flights or drive far for example.


I think the idea is that, dogs for example have a high meat diet, and large dogs probably eat more than a person.

And they might not drive but a lot of owners like to drive some where to 'walk' their dog. Although considering the levels of obesity, that the exercise might be a net benefit.

Now I don't think dogs or cats cause anything like as much co2 as humans, but it is significant, and given the scale of reductions in co2 required, I think we are probably going to get to a point where large pet ownership is at least questioned.


You can't seriously believe that.


At this point we'd be moving from policy to wide-scale social engineering.


Could you break down how that's possible? The only way I can think of that being possible is if you move the goal posts for one group and compare apple mathematics to orange mathematics.


Pets can love you back. The same isn't necessarily true of most people.


What is love?

My dog only sticks around because I feed it. But then that's the same for my partner.

I suppose you could say its some kind of need for companionship? For me and my partner that's evolutionarily good for raising our spawn. But my dog has been genetically bred for 1000s of years for our purposes, maybe for a dog, it's unnatural to love, and a form of genetic enslavement? Maybe they've just learnt they get rewarded when they show 'love'.

Of course theres also the chance that you're anthropomorphising an animal.


I want to knee-jerk and say "you've got it backwards; humans are mammals, mammals are social organisms, love is part of that profile". At the base, of course, everything is genetics; however, that doesn't make our experience of it any less real (just like our appreciation of beauty). I would say if your dog (or your partner) is just sticking around because you feed it, you are not doing something right.


If I was out of food my dogs would make sure we all got fed.

There are ways to have a symbiotic relationship with another animal without strict verbal communication. Maybe you just haven't taken the time to learn about your animal and the things that make it unique and worth loving. Because it might already be doing that about you.

I know I wake up every morning to my cat purring on my face and nestling into me and she starts purring the moment I pick her up. She's not sticking around for table scraps.

I used to own rats. If you want to really learn just how emotionally intelligent pets can be, get a pair of those. Some of the most social creatures you'll ever meet.


Mammals have the same limbic systems we do.


>always be cheaper to prevent creation of CO2 (burning fossil fuels) than to catch CO2

Why ? Where does this comes from ?


One of those processes emits energy, the other requires energy input - and to overcome the entropy, the capture process requires more energy.

Edit: one barrel of oil produces 0.43 metric tons CO2 and costs about $60. Therefore, if your price of CO2 capture is more than $140/ton, it's cheaper to "capture" the CO2 by buying a barrel of oil and "sequestering" it as you would the CO2. So if carbon capture prices are more than about $150 it would be a viable business to operate a "reverse oilfield" buying oil on the open market and pumping it underground.


Shouldn’t you include the value of the energy that the barrel creates in the calculation?


It was mostly a piece of elaborate sarcasm about the value of reducing consumption rather than capture. Going down that route, should the value of energy used in carbon capture be counted at the market rate or its opportunity cost?

It's valid to point out that the value of a barrel of oil is more than its cost and this gives rise to a "consumer surplus", which leads to the carbon tax arguments.

(Although, as Retric points out upthread, there are consequential CO2 side-effects from oil extraction more than just burning it, so maybe those should be counted too?)


This might not always be the case if for example solar energy prices keep falling as fast as they have been.


This is just law of conservation of energy (1st law of thermodynamics). If burning carbon to CO2 produces certain amount of energy (part of which then can be used to do useful work), then the reverse of that process, breaking up CO2 to carbon and oxygen, will require at least the amount of energy that was produced in burning it.

So yeah, it's nice to have the technology to take CO2 from the air and create C and O2, however, the catch is, it requires energy. If that energy comes from fossil fuels, you will be better off not to do this thing at all, because you will end up creating a bit more CO2 in the process.


If we're going to depend on renewables for almost all electricity generation, this will require both energy storage, and installing more renewables than are needed for typical usage. This wouldn't be true if we had cheap energy storage that could supply load for weeks at a time through unusual dips in generation, but that seems unlikely. In practice it's cheaper to install excess generation than excess storage.

Now, if you've got excess generation for electricity, then at times of good generation, you want to use that electricity for something, as otherwise the electricity price will be negative. Using it to produce synthetic fuels for aviation seems like a really good match, as that electricity would be effectively free.


>If burning carbon to CO2 produces certain amount of energy (part of which then can be used to do useful work), then the reverse of that process, breaking up CO2 to carbon and oxygen, will require at least the amount of energy that was produced in burning it.

Except that you don't have to do the exact reverse of the process, you just have to extract it from the atmosphere (or emission point) and contain it somehow, which could be any number of mechanisms that may or may not require significant energy (beyond the cost of distillation).

Edit: Your argument is like saying that garbage collection (in the municipal sense) can never be economical because because it has to cost at least as much as making the products-to-be-disposed.


The second law makes it much worse.

If you take concentrated oxygen and concentrated carbon (soot), you can burn them in a sealed chamber into pure CO2. If you are very careful about extracting the energy, you might get most of it.

But already the entropy has increased, because now the carbon and oxygen have mixed together. Attempting to reverse the reaction will need extra energy to deal with that.

It gets much worse though, if you open up our chamber and vent the gas into the atmosphere. The entropy goes through the roof as the CO2 concentration drops to a few hundred PPM, and the cost of reversing the reaction goes up even more.


If the energy to do the reverse is not from carbon fuels (solar, wind) then it gets interesting though, right?


I do not think all methods of CO2 capture require an active energy source. I believe there are sequestration methods involving volcanic rock.


If we want to meet the 2 degrees goal by any means then given current trends we'll have to start removing net amounts of CO2 from the athmosphere. Of course, it makes most sense to do that once we are already carbon neutral, but once we are there, we should have the technology available for deployment and therefore investing in research right now is a good idea.


I'm very much in agreement here, I'm glad someone's investing into researching the tech, as we may need to use it even after we've stopped burning dinosaurs.

What I do like about it is that it quantifies how much it costs to recover the CO2, which is useful in calculating externalities. For example, there was recently a Canadian court ruling that bankrupt oil firms first need to fund well cleanup before creditors... to which reddit joked how progressive such a concept is. No, a 'progressive' statement is that we need to calculate how much it would cost to pull all the CO2 that was generated by using the oil as fuel and finance that as well, before creditors are paid...


We should be running full speed to cut emissions whilst also implementing things like this https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=vpTHi7O66pI which both sequesters an enormous amount of carbon and improves our planet.

In Europe at least these are things we can do without extra costs by just changing the farm subsidies so they encourage good behaviour. Just as we can do the same my moving fuel subsidies away from fossil to renewables.


Savory has been heavily heavily criticized. I'm not versed enough but it seems he's preaching more than proving.

That said if you get to make people walk into places to produce carbon sequestration areas/devices instead of burning fuel .. you'd get squared returns


I don't know much about his methology but from what I've been reading it's possible to sequester a huge quantity of co2 in soil via active land management. I'd love to know if it was economically viable to do.


the few bits I've read about him was not about capture but turning arid land back to green pastures, and studies concluded that none of his theories made a difference

maybe he's right about co2 capture but be dubious


Depends on the energy economics.

If it gets to (for example) a point where capturing carbon uses less energy than burning the same amount of carbon fuel releases... it's at least theoretically useful. At that point it's about costs.

Otherwise... Say we get to 0 emissions by 2035. There will be (is) already a troublesome amount of carbon in the atmosphere. We might have to do some carbon capture even if we're not releasing new carbon.


> Depends on the energy economics. If it gets to (for example) a point where capturing carbon uses less energy than burning the same amount of carbon fuel releases

Not allowed by thermodynamics. Otherwise you could create free energy by continuously burning and recapturing the same carbon.


> Not allowed by thermodynamics. Otherwise you could create free energy by continuously burning and recapturing the same carbon.

That doesn't have to be the case; the carbon you capture may not be in a burnable form. E.g. if carbon dioxide were captured, additional energy would be required to split off the oxygen before the carbon could be 'burned' again.


Just capturing might be possible - it doesn't have to be in form that can be easily used to generate energy.


It would suffice to use less non-carbon-based energy to capture the CO2.


"If it gets to (for example) a point where capturing carbon uses less energy than burning the same amount of carbon fuel releases"

Sorry, that's forbidden by the laws of physics.


Isn't something like half of emissions from construction (steel and cement) and agriculture? Limiting fossil fuels is a good idea, but as that declines the significance of other sources of CO2 will increase. And those two sources are already increasing in absolute terms as well and will continue to increase as long as global population and living standards do as well.


Arter reading your comment I was envisioning a world that emitted no carbon. It made me wonder if the pendulum could possibly swing so far in the other direction that plants could start suffocating. Certainly not something we need to worry about now, but we humans aren’t great at avoiding unintended consequences.


Zero carbon from human energy production doesn’t arrest the natural carbon cycle. Plants will continue as plants.

The problem is we are literally digging carbon out of the ground and putting it into the atmosphere, thereby increasing the amount of atmospheric carbon over time.


The answer is somewhere between “no” and “what??” .

As but one factor, dying plants would release CO2. The total amount of carbon in the atmosphere is (was) at equilibrium.


Of course. I shouldn’t comment so early in the morning :(


You [1] emit CO2 from the food you eat, so absolute zero CO2 emission is impossible. There are also emission from volcanos.

For a somewhat similar scenario, you can read about the Carboniferous period https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carboniferous . Essentially, the plants invented the wood but nobody know how to eat it, so the dead plants accumulated sequestering a lot of CO2. So the CO2 concentration dropped and the O2 concentration skyrocket. As a side effect, the high O2 concentration allowed bugs to became giant. (It ended when fungus learned how to eat wood.)

[1] And all the other animal, fungus and even plants. And also bacteria and archaea.


>So, the first thing we need to do is to move to completely carbon emission free technology of energy production.

I’m very interested when a statement right off the bat throws out that we should completely and unquestionably stop using hydrocarbons which are the most efficient, portable, easy to use and safe source of energy we have ever seen. Not to mention it’s current absolute requirement in long range transport, making plastics, lubricants and production of composites that make the efficient renewable powered machines possible.

How is it some people get a pass on willfully ignoring reality just because the goal is reducing emissions?

So on the topic, you better hope recovering CO2 is efficient because we won’t stop using oil until it’s gone.


You can't claim people are "willfully ignoring reality" without acknowledging that capture is necessarily going to consume more energy that was emitted in release.

> making plastics, lubricants and production of composites

These don't put CO2 into the atmosphere until they are burned. Also given sufficient energy input they could also be outputs of a capture process...


I think there might be another lucrative market for this technology. Creating low CO2 environments in corporate (or other) buildings.

There's a ton of anecdotal (e.g. [0]) and some scientific [1] evidence that elevated CO2 levels has negative mental effects. If you could prove this effect and make office workers 1% more effective that would be worth millions to a company like Google, before you consider the advertising, recruiting, tax credit, etc advantages.

PS. I think this is the most dystopian business idea I've ever had.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18959796

[1] This seems to be a good survey paper. Download button at top right doesn't require a login https://www.researchgate.net/publication/311844520_Carbon_di...


Well, Google solution would be a lot simpler - oxygenate the buildings. Probably would contribute a bit TOWARD GW


Also a good idea - but it's not necessarily an either or sort of thing, since the (potential) issue with CO2 is toxicity not lack of O2.


Or just buy some plants. I bet they would look prettier, too.


> A Climeworks app could be installed on my smartphone, he explained. It could then be activated by my handset’s location services. “You fly over here to Europe,” he explained, “and the app tells you that you have just burned 1.7 tons of CO₂. Do you want to remove that? Well, Climeworks can remove it for you. Click here. We’ll charge your credit card. And then you’ll get a stone made from CO₂ for every ton you sequester.” He sat back and sighed. “That would be my dream,” he said.

That's what I'm working on! Get people who care to take personal responsibility for their own travel. It is just $2-4 dollars a week - a tiny sum for people who fly frequently. In beta for iOS now if you are interested in giving it a shot: https://www.producthunt.com/upcoming/pledge-balance

An independent app has the benefit of not being stuck with just this Climeworks best case $100/ton direct air capture. Soils and grasslands seem to be a low hanging fruit closer to $10/ton.


I’m sorry, but trying to save the planet via a charity while taking a vig to get rich at the same time isn’t going to work. The scale of the problem is just too large, and the number of individuals at the retail end of the carbon economy with the desire and disposable income to not only undo their own emissions is tiny.


No vig

The tough part about a problem of massive scale is no solution is good enough. So you sit around debating a global carbon tax for decades while attacking any other effort that is an incremental approach?


If you want to sell good feelings, I guess that’s fine, but never convince yourself that you’re making an impact.


Approval accepted and I will stay away from the kool-aid.


Someone less convinced about these issues will react to this by saying: „good idea, make those who are interested in this climate thing pay and leave the rest of us alone“.


Hopefully this is a more palatable solution for skeptics than a big carbon tax or even doing nothing. There is an obvious connection between cars and airplanes spewing gunk into the air, you don't need to make a case with global warming models - just be responsible for your own mess and nothing more. Everyone understands pollution and being responsible for their direct actions.


Everyone understands pollution and being responsible for their direct actions.

And yet still only 2% of the population is vegan.

I don't suppose it will work if we just leave this to the people who care. Most people do care, but enough to sacrifice their comfort.


I would argue being vegan is a very hard change, equivalent in my mind to asking people who care about the environment to never fly or get in a car with an internal combustion engine. Those people exist, but man is that a lot to ask!

It is a much smaller ask to opt into paying 5 cents more for a burger to offset. But with travel the connection to emissions is more obvious and wealthy people have a larger share (a rich person doesn't eat 10x more steak than average, but does fly 10x more).


You lost me on the comparison between never flying/driving and eating responsibly and well, but i think the "never" part of the equation is going to cause a lot of friction.

If being a vegan is hard, use condiments! Don't be a vegan, just eat way less meat (especially red) and stuff made with palm oil which would both benefit both the climate and your health. Actually the heck with the planet, heart disease will take your number faster than climate change.

"By 2020, 90% of Ford’s North American sales will consist of larger vehicles with lower fuel economy" Not buying an SUV that never leaves the pavement which rides on GIANT tires might also be something to consider in the personal choices category. If you really need to see above everyone else, install a periscope.


Internalize profits, externalize costs.


The fact that people think that you can just buy your way out of the laws of physics makes me so frustrated I want to cry. We are truly doomed.


I see it more as a stop-gap. Reducing some of the damage transitioning to renewable energy over the next 1-3 decades. And optimistically doing my small part.


I mean, I have children. What am I going to tell them.


Capturing CO2 from air seems like a very difficult task. Its only 0.041% by volume, which means you need huge volumes of air, hence all the fans. One promising technology I've seen involves taking CO2 out of seawater, sequestering it as a mineral and producing H2 as a byproduct, called electrogeochemistry [0]. They claim it can be done relatively cheaply but are still lab scale.

The other negative emissions technologies I've seen are biomass energy plus carbon capture and storage (BECCS). That involves using biomass for some energy purpose, say making ethanol or burning woods chips, and capturing and storing the resulting CO2.

[0] https://news.ucsc.edu/2018/06/electrogeochemistry.html


Could someone point out to me how BECCS compares to just using solar/wins plus batteries for energy? Independence from local climate/geography? I assume that the vast majority of people live in areas where alternative energies are viable, the main missing piece in thar puzzle is cheap battery tech. For housing purposes this is already pretty much solved, it‘s called a water tank (for thermal storage).


"it costs the firm between $500 and $600 to remove a metric ton of CO₂ from the air"

Ricke et alia center their cost-of-carbon estimates at $417: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-018-0282-y . Climeworks is already very close.


"At the moment, global CO₂ emissions are about 37 billion metric tons per year"

"Still, greenhouses and soda bubbles together represent a small global market — perhaps six million metric tons of CO₂ annually."

Hmm... as they point out later on, this only starts to make a difference if they get the whole air-capture-to-hydrocarbons thing working, fuelled by surplus renewable energy, and there's a global moratorium or limitation on oil/gas exploration and drilling.


A couple of positive notes: firstly the soon-to-be world's largest windfarm started supplying power for the first time this week:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/11/biggest-...

Secondly I've just become aware of how much e-bikes have come on, to the point that they could feasibly replace more and more journeys in future. Sadly in the UK the legislation lags behind the technology at present in that either you have a 250w/15.5 mph limited bike, or you have to go full blown motor vehicle registration with number plate, insurance, etc., whereas in Europe they recognise a third category between the two. Hoping this gets sorted out in future (no Brexit comments, please..).


Is that 15.5mph limit only for motor output on flat ground? I routinely hit 40-50mph downhill while commuting on my non-motorized road bike.


That’s the point where the motor stops assisting, to go faster you just need to peddle harder.

In reality it’s fairly easy to deresrict these bikes, the only problem is most car drivers won’t expect you to be going so fast.


> the only problem is most car drivers won’t expect you to be going so fast.

Not the only problem - if you get caught there's also possible prosecution, points on your driving license etc. What's doubly annoying is that even if you want to do the right thing and register your 1000w e-bike as a moped there are still barriers in the way, e.g. finding insurance, getting it MOT-d. Still another issue is that once it's registered as a moped it cannot be used on cycle paths etc. It really is ridiculous at present and the law needs updating.


I’m not sure allowing 1000W unrestricted bikes on cycle lanes is a good idea.


..hence the fact there should be a middle category, to remove the temptation. It does make me pretty cynical about political rhetoric on climate change when the opportunity to act fast to promote new technology is there, and they apparently do sweet FA.


Actually thinking about it I'd really like to see something down about electric scooters, the type that companies like Bird rent out. Currently they are illegal because they have a hand throttle.


Considering many use bikes as a way to save cost, mandatory insurance seems a bit ridiculous.


I subscribe to the ebikes subreddit, so I find it interesting and appealing.

But for mass-consumption, we already have motor-cycles and scooters that are like 2-4x more efficient than cars, but get relatively little use.

What will make ebikes different?


Most people already know how to ride a bike, for a start. E-bikes are also cheaper, cleaner, quieter, lighter, slower, (subject to power restrictions mentioned above) can be ridden on cycle paths, (here in the UK at least) require you to actually pedal to some degree and so have a fitness component, and come without the need for a license, insurance, MOT, road tax, and mandatory heavy protective gear, and require considerably less servicing, and can be easily wheeled into the house to prevent them being stolen. I like motorbikes etc. also and have been looking at them again after considering an e-bike because really if I'm considering dropping £3k on an e-bike why not just spend a little more for a motorbike and get rid of the range anxiety etc.? But I'd say the vast majority of people in the UK at least are never going to go to the hassle of getting a scooter/motorbike license whereas they would certainly contemplate buying what is effectively still a bike, but with an inoffensive strapped on power booster.


"Last year, when David Keith and his associates at Carbon Engineering published figures projecting that their carbon-capture technology could bring costs as low as $94 a metric ton, Herzog was not convinced. Keith nevertheless made the case to me that two new investors in Carbon Engineering — Chevron Technology Ventures and a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum — scrutinized his company’s numbers to an exhaustive degree and agreed the economics of the venture were solid enough to merit putting up substantial amounts in a $60 million investment round."

This is the most interesting part. The investors are oil companies. Perhaps they are just funding the story that there is no need for government to curtail or tax their activities, because DAC will be able to "reverse time" for us in the future? The article has already debunked this quite well, like the quote from Hal Harvey. But at the same time, these technologies are still pencilled in by the I.P.C.C.[1] and of course, Chevron when they say they will abide by the Paris agreement but still increase their year-on-year output of fossil fuels[2].

Carbon Engineering does seem to get outsize coverage in the news. Hope sells better than despair, or the idea that we would actually need to change our lifestyles (fly much less, eat less meat, etc) to combat climate change.

Carbon Engineering is also based in Calgary, home to a lot of the O&G industry, but are not working on the thermodynamically easier problem - extracting CO2 from the pollution output of power plants, where it's 25% of the output instead of 0.04%.

[1] http://blog.policy.manchester.ac.uk/posts/2018/10/response-t...

[2] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-02-07/chevron-p...


I am really curious what goes on in the minds of the people working at these companies in top positions. How do they sleep at night? Do they simply say to themselves "I'm just one person, I can't do anything about a global problem and I need money"?

I find it hard to believe that there is some sinister plot to do damage as long as possible to make the most money. Surely these people realize we are all doomed no matter the amount of money you have in the end? Or perhaps that's it... perhaps they know we are doomed and just want to live out their lives in the most comfort possible and buy whatever comfort money may afford for their children?


I was reading a "biography" of (I think it was the) Nature Conservancy (or a similar legal activist group.)

They got their start when they had figured out that PG&E (California's electric company) could meet their projected demand while saving money and reducing pollution by improving efficiency of existing infrastructure instead of building new power plants. They couldn't convince management to even look at the numbers. They had to sue them to get them to do something obvious that was in their own best interests. That's how gung ho the executives were to "build, baby build". It wasn't a conspiracy, it was just systemic cultural dumbness.


Answer: Yes, these people need jobs and there is a lot of money to be made legally drilling offshore oil wells off the coast of Guyana[1].

Consider coal, the poster child. Blaming the coal producing states[2] might feel good, but it's not very effective. Personally, I prefer to have a shared global responsibility mindset because I too consume goods that are made in China, where ~50% of the coal is burned. How do I sleep at night? Quite well because I'm often exhausted from startup life + BJJ + kids :-)

As a citizen in a democratic country, if you want to affect change, policy seems to be the way to go. As far as environmental problems go in the US, the boundary between federal and state is not well defined[3] and most recently the federal government seem content with letting the states take more of the burden. A few (humble) thought starters for US citizens would include:

  A. Learn how much your state is burning[4] and what your governor is doing about it
  B. Find out about organizations and lobbying groups that align with your ideals
  C. Vote with your money[5], and vote in the election
---

  1: https://corporate.exxonmobil.com/en/Locations/Guyana/Guyana-project-overview#explorationWellsDrilledInTheStabroekBlock
  2: https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=69&t=2
  3: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_and_state_environmental_relations
  4: https://www.americangeosciences.org/critical-issues/faq/which-states-are-largest-producers-and-consumers-coal
  5: https://lobbyit.com/how-state-and-fe-lobbying-differ/
edit: format


I think it would be far more manageable to just plant more trees. They were optimized for millions of years to pull CO2 out of the air and store it in the form of wood which is a fantastic material by the way. And trees are not only a simple but a scalable solution.


The article mentions the difficulty of scaling reforestation and afforestation. It is currently a fairly manual (and physically brutal) task which usually involves (energy intensive) greenhouses/nurseries.

That said, there are some groups that are working on addressing scaling reforestation right now (and we are hiring engineers).

https://techcrunch.com/2018/11/26/that-night-a-forest-flew-d...

https://cleantechnica.com/2019/02/08/drones-seeds-fires-how-...

It’s also worth mentioning that rangeland vegetation can have a critical role to play. It doesn’t seems as obvious/flashy, but they tend to have an enormous root structure and can prevent state changes (e.g., desertification).


Trees are scalable in that you can keep planting them at low cost, but no where near effective enough at sequestering carbon. Even if you cover all agricultural land in the world with trees, you won't sequester enough carbon to prevent climate change.


We can achieve ⅓ of the global emissions reductions called for in The Paris Agreement with ‘Natural Climate Solutions’ - replanting trees, rangelands, and fire response and restoration.

https://nature4climate.org/resource-centre/messaging/


Plus they're nicer to look at than the CO2-capturing-factory on the pictures.


I do believe taking CO2 from the air is critically important.

But meanwhile not far away from this site, all around Europe, power stations are burning mountains of coal. Surely its easier to stop that than scrubbing it.


This is one of those areas where nuclear power might be useful. The main expensive input to this process is energy. If you had several nuclear power plants powering this process, you could remove a substantial amount of CO2 from the air. Additional energy input could be used to create hydrocarbons, and you could have a carbon neutral fuel that is ultimately nuclear powered.


No one can "stop" climate change. It's far too late for that. All we can do now is hope to blunt the force of the impact.


I think if we could muster a couple hundred dollar per ton carbon tax and use the revenue for removal, that would do it. Means putting about 4% of global GDP towards it, forever, but it could certainly be done. Back of the envelope call it removing 20 billion tons of carbon per year. 4 trillion dollars a year.

That's leaving aside the fact that we won't, of course, but it's not physically or economically impossible.


Well, its already occurring. We can certainly still aim to reduce the actual continued worsening of climate change, as well as mitigating its effects.

If cheap, easy commercially viable fusion power was unveiled tomorrow I'd have hope that we could stop climate change in 10 years. A real, cheap commercial way to remove carbon from the atmosphere in massive amounts could also stop it. I can't say that this company feels like they have that.


There is only one issue with that thinking. Till people who directly profit from destroying environment can lobby our democratic system, we cant do anything with big enough influence. We would have to introduce totalitarism lead by Gandalfs to change that.


If you equate concerted international government-lead action to totalitarianism, you are part of the problem.


> We would have to introduce totalitarism lead by Gandalfs

Thanks, I'm stealing that line. :)


All of the UN/IPCC proposals for holding warming to "only" +2C (which is still fairly catastrophic--all coral reefs will be dead, for example) are already assuming that magic unproven negative-emissions technology is deployed at scale.

So from that perceptive, it's nice to see that somebody is in fact working on inventing this technology. But it's not going to 'stop' climate change.

A more honest headline but less-catchy headline would be "Unproven technology might help us avoid our current path to worst-case climate scenarios"

-----------------------------------------------------------

https://www.vox.com/2016/10/4/13118594/2-degrees-no-more-fos...

> As you can see, in either scenario, global emissions must peak and begin declining immediately. For a medium chance to avoid 1.5 degrees, the world has to zero out net carbon emissions by 2050 or so — for a good chance of avoiding 2 degrees, by around 2065.

> After that, emissions have to go negative. Humanity has to start burying a lot more carbon than it throws up into the atmosphere. There are several ways to sequester greenhouse gases, from reforestation to soil enrichment to cow backpacks, but the backbone of the envisioned negative emissions is BECCS, or bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration.


Any positive effort is good news to me. We need more of this, everywhere, along with the thousands of other moving parts that need to happen to change the world.


Yeah, I applaud the efforts of this Swiss team. I guess I'm just grumpy about the disingenuous way the mainstream media still talks about climate change as a 'might happen in the future' problem instead of a 'currently is happening, and will keep getting much worse' problem.


Well, definitely not with that attitude. That just sounds like an excuse to not do anything now and let the next generation handle things.

You should know however, that people who are 20-40 now will just about be hitting their senior years when things start to get really bad. If you're in that age range, do you think your retirement savings will be able to handle the increased costs of nearly everything - food, fuel, housing, medical care?


Honestly, I think we should be making our peace with the end of the ecosystems that have nurtured humanity. We're not going to fix it. Try to avoid birthing the next generation, if you can. If you've already had children, as you say, they will pay in their blood for our laziness and stupidity.

https://dark-mountain.net/


There is no technical reason we couldn’t solve this problem, only political reasons.


If this was scaled up and functioning in a significant number of cities and energy production centers, would it matter?

From what I understood, the troublesome area for CO2 in our atmosphere is in a level way above where we live and work, so we need scrubbing up there, not down here closer to the ocean.


I think this is one of many approaches stated in this video: https://www.ted.com/talks/chad_frischmann_100_solutions_to_c...


Doing some bandaid solution doesn't solve the root of the problem. And that is that companies are running through natural resources with wanton abandon.

We have deserts (California) with acre-feet of water pumped in to water almond trees, while we destroy freshwater aquifers. We burn dead dinosaurs and leave the toxic accumulants to hang out in atmo. We inject nasty carcinogens and then blow up the ground to salvage more oil. We dump all sorts of things in the ocean for 'someone else' to deal with.

Sure we individuals can do a few conservative things for ecology. But the bulk is the companies are allowed to leverage natural resources and the tragedy of the commons of the world to make a few more $$$. And these tiny companies with some carbon sequestration makes people feel good, but ultimately means that we buy a few more weeks, months, or perhaps years before we're completely fucked.


Well, no it doesn't. Although it at least has the merit to shed some light on the matter, make some cash flow towards the problem, and offer some imperfect solutions.

I would love the Earth resources to be considered and treated precious by all of us 8 billion humans, but that's clearly not the case. We in Europe have been organizing strikes for months, and we are not being listened. If I think about the USA, where politicians listen to their constituents even less, and the general opinion is just not concerned enough to VOTE for their president, much less get involved politically, I fall in despair. I cry. Then I just try to forget because I want to carry on.

What will you do? Are you getting involved with your local politicians? Are you doing a few conservative things for ecology? I just hope that you are doing more than writing critical comments on the internet.


> If I think about the USA, where politicians listen to their constituents even less, and the general opinion is just not concerned enough to VOTE for their president, much less get involved politically, I fall in despair. I cry. Then I just try to forget because I want to carry on.

I live in the US. Indiana. Our last governor was Mike Pence.

Our state is full of Republicans who wholly reject any idea of global warming or climate change. Fracking is cool and a good way to make money. Public institutions are a place to extort more money from students. Our state and national forests are places the Dept. of Natural Resources have deemed OK to sell old growth trees for $3 (2.6 euro - yes, pocket change)/tree. A law was passed 2 years ago banning communities from banning or putting fees on plastic bags.

Where I live cares nothing for ecology or environmentalism. The crony politicians only further their own private business interests. I do try to find city/county local politicians that care, but their hands are tied.

I also live with my wife and practice the 4 R's (Repair, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle). But that meager effort only goes so far.


Reform the electoral system to achieve the representation we all deserve.

The electoral system we use now: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7tWHJfhiyo

Alternatives:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3GFG0sXIig

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8XOZJkozfI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Y3jE3B8HsE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QT0I-sdoSXU

We can start introducing these to everyone at the state and local level to build momentum for electoral reform at the federal level.

A good old fashioned general strike until we get what we need from our "representatives".


I think people are trying. It's an uphill battle, but better than doing absolutely nothing. We may sink the ship but we'll try to swim to shore. If people profiting off the environment do not feel bad for their kids, let it be on their consciousness.


> ... at prices cheap enough ...

Argh. Prices can't be cheap, NYT. They can be low.

/pet-peeve


The title sounds like someone is actually seriously working on stopping climate change, so that there is something to provide some help to. Which is, well, not the case, no?


So they capture the CO2 then.. release it? Into a greenhouse? Then what? How much of the CO2 goes back into the atmosphere?


The article mentions what they plan on doing with it:

"What Gebald and Wurzbacher really want to do is to pull vast amounts of CO₂ out of the atmosphere and bury it, forever, deep underground, and sell that service as an offset. Climeworks’s captured CO₂ has already been injected deep into rock formations beneath Iceland..."


This is the crux of why this won't work - although it gives great branding for a company in the NYT. First if you put it into tomatoes or soda -- it gets released once the product is used. So you get a slight offset from not producing more CO2 for those project types but it isn't a clear win. Also the cost of geological sequestration for CO2 is quite expensive even if you are co-located by geological formation that works.

Either way - progress that people are looking into these possibilities and that they are getting mainstream attention... let's hope we can as a society keep building on successes.


Check out olivine weathering.


Is this an actual article or an advertisement for a gimmicky company and a part of the company's paid PR campaign? What's news worthy here?


maybe one day they will take out so many co2 from the atmosphere so the atmosphere becomes toxic. we must stop this madness and use more disel!


Modern Diesel engines are more CO2 efficient than petrol[1].

[1] https://theconversation.com/fact-check-are-diesel-cars-reall...


Here's the thing: there's this thing called conservation of mass and energy.

The carbon reaction goes like this: Carbon + Oxygen = CO2 + energy.

You can reverse it, like you can with any chemical reaction, like this: CO2 + energy = Carbon + Oxygen

This is all high school chemistry stuff. But the long and short is: To sequester carbon from the atmosphere requires at least as much energy as you got by burning the carbon in the first place.

That's why no scheme to unburn the carbon can ever work.


That kind of dismissive, smug response is never helpful and often disempowering. While so far we've never gotten around conservation of energy laws, we've often engineered solutions that met our goals. There are renewable sources of energy that can power this effort. Many wind-farms and even solar farms are starting to overproduce in some areas. Nuke plants overproduce because they can't adapt quickly enough to changing demands. There are solutions to the problem of powering these sequestration units.


Right, but they are always worse than just not burning the CO2 in the first place.

Also, "So far"? If you believe that we're ever going to break the conservation of mass and energy, you literally believe in magic.


Yup either everyone who talks about carbon capture literally believe in magic and failed high school chemistry/physics, or there is more nuance to the issue than you think.


They plan to sequester the CO2, not "unburn" it back to carbon and oxygen. The CO2 reaction you posted has nothing to do with the cost of capturing CO2 and sequestering it.


What if the carbon capture process was driven by a renewable energy source? Thermodynamic still applies but the useage of carbon to do so could be close to zero.


Gases mix.

You can burn carbon at one location, and unburn it elsewhere. For instance, you could burn it on planes, which benefit directly from fossil fuels' high energy density, and then unburn it in areas with surplus of solar or wind power, taking energy from renewable sources.

Here, no thermodynamics violated, and yet the system allows us to eat our cake (high-density energy storage) and eat it too (net zero carbon emissions).


> That's why no scheme to unburn the carbon can ever work.

Why? How does it follow from the previous sentence?


Because it always takes more energy than just not burning the carbon in the first place. "Always" in the exact, scientific, ironclad sense of the word "always".


> Because it always takes more energy than just not burning the carbon in the first place. "Always" in the exact, scientific, ironclad sense of the word "always".

So what?

You're implicitly checking if energy is "lost", for some definition of energy loss. But that's not what's discussed here. Nobody's proposing a perpetuum mobile, we're just talking about environment. The question is, is it better to not burn in the first place or burn and then clean up? And the answer, perhaps surprisingly, is not obvious.


Yes, the article actually does a decent job at discussing this. For city driving it almost certainly doesn’t make sense compared to going electric. Neither does it make sense as an alternative to going to a carbon-free electric grid. Where it does make sense is in industrial processes where energy is not the largest cost factor, or the parts of transport industry where energy density and charging speed the most important characteristic (e.g. air travel, long-haul trucking).


I'm impressed by achievements of Sustainable Energy Solutions, a company in Utah, which specializes in energy-efficient cleanup of CO2-rich exhausts from power plants. Particularly the efficiency of the approach is worthy of attention, in my opinion. https://sesinnovation.com/


Umm, renewables to build more renewables.




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