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Climeworks lays the foundation to scale up carbon dioxide removal significantly (climeworks.com)
106 points by jseliger 4 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 147 comments



Having refused to do 1000 other things.

We're now offered a 1001st option.

We will refuse this option too. Because the problem isn't that we can't stop climate change, it's that we don't want to.

That's not a science, engineering, technology problem. It's a human nature, leadership problem.


But if some technology makes it 1000x easier, cheap, and doesn't require the involvement or even consent of governments, then that's a win for science right? And avoids leadership / human nature.


If you could find a solution that was a few tens of billions times cheaper than any current solution, a private individual might be able to fund it. That might work. But right now, no government will pay even for a solution 1000x cheaper than current options.

This is why no one is considering Geo Engineering.

Remember, if you don't want to solve a problem, the cost of solving it is always too high, even if the cost is only 1USD...


I think geo engineering is not heartily pursued out of an abundance of caution: having established we can seriously damage the climate, many of the solutions that try to put the breaks on look even riskier because we don't want to overshoot. Or rely on unproven technology when the crisis is here, now.

(Not to be flippant, but the relevant xkcd: https://xkcd.com/349/ describes this well: sometimes things get a lot worse when an engineer tinkers with them.)


Geoengineering by taking excess CO2 out of the atmosphere, using machines that we can simply switch off, and storing the CO2 in deep basalt formations where it turns into rock, is almost certainly lower risk than leaving the excess CO2 in the air.

That doesn't mean we should rely on this entirely and not attempt to reduce emissions. But we're also past the point where we can rely on emission reductions alone.


If we don't have the will (budget) to stop emissions at source, why would be have it to go out and sequester it from the general atmosphere? Isn't that harder technically, more expensive and more energy consuming etc?


The people who want to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere may not have the power to stop emissions at source, while they do have the ability to sequester.


Distributed costs and concentrated benefits. Each particular emissions reduction plan impacts specific groups that will fight it. General taxation to pay for geo-engineering projects impacts everyone as well, but not in specific ways.

There might be more public support in a moon-shot big engineering project, and fighting the small-government types, than say, reducing emissions for factories and fighting the relevant lobby.


That depends. Cars are on the verge of being pretty cheap to electrify. Long-haul airliners, not so much. The smart thing would be to put a substantial price on carbon, give credit for sequestering, and let the market do the rest.

In the long term, we're going to need net negative emissions anyway. CO2 is already too high and is still rapidly increasing.


I doubt governments would refuse to pay 1USD to solve global warming.

This is an absurdly reductive take.


That was more meant as a "you personally solving your problems". I guess the equivalent for a government would be 1bn USD?


Any solution cheap enough that the developed world can shell out for it without worrying about the developing world not paying their fair share would get implemented in an instant.


FYI, the Royal Society says we could fix it with geo engineering for a few 10s of billions USD a year [0]. That seems pretty cheap, only about 10-100USD per person per year for the US and EU. Less if the rest of the developed work chips in. It would even cost less Net as we would save the most from not having to build flood defenses or import food or keep out refugees.

This has been judged far to expensive.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_engineering#Costs


just because it isn't being done does not mean it has been "judged far too expensive"


yes, its just very unlikely, given the huge mass we are talking about. thousands of mountain sized c02 scrubbing machines scattered over the planet?


It still boils down to "who pays." And we're in the "I won't even pay my taxes since I can just hide them somewhere and the government won't come after me" phase of capitalism.

The world's going to hell fast. If past is prologue, the Rich will pay for their parts of the world being nice and habitable. Everyone else will be left to suffer.

Get ready to see domed city concepts getting more serious and more cities like Vegas with connected tunnels and shafts between buildings to avoid going outdoors for any reason...


Actually right now we can’t stop climate change without some method of sequestering what we’ve put into the atmosphere and oceans.

Even if we stopped 100% of emissions today, we’ll still have continued warming from the baked in effects of co2 and from continued methane leaks from the earth as it warms. The earth would stabilize somewhere but it would be warmer than we want.

So we need something like this. You’re right that it’s mostly a human nature problem, but it’s still better that we develop tools so they’re useable when things get urgent enough that it becomes short term enough that we act.

Also is solutions get cheap enough that also allows action. Past solutions have been very costly: carbon is how we got the industrial revolution. There was no easy way to go back on that. Ni real options to maintain prosperity other than nuclear, which we had collectively ruled out. (Referring to past, not present. Solar is much cheaper now)


You're correct that if we wanted to stop climate change, we would need this.

But we don't want to stop climate change.

We've decided to let it continue and worsen.


It's a political problem. Problems that don't - or appear to no - spread pain and benefits equally move inexorably towards the political.

But here's the thing. Political problems have political solutions. You just have to figure out a way to adjust who gets hurt and who gets helped until the people happy with the solution have enough power so that they can steamroll those who remain unhappy.


Great to see air mining getting featured on HN!

For an index of 100+ companies working on mining carbon dioxide from the air, check out AirMiners http://www.airminers.org


What’s the economics of this? Who buys tons of carbon?


In the long term, if we eventually make it to the scenario where we stop putting CO2 into the atmosphere on net, then each kg of CO2 input into the atmosphere must be compensated by a kg of CO2 removed by some mechanism or another. The reasonable thing to do in that equilibrium would be to set the price to output CO2 - collected by governments as a carbon fee - equal to the price to capture CO2, paid out by governments as a negative carbon reward. Of course we could just do that now, the trick is how to get to that equilibrium scenario without collapsing the economy in the process.


I would assume the primary customers would be purchasers of carbon credits, and possibly governments. However, there is likely a large future market for synthetic fuels, and carbon dioxide is an important building block for synthetic hydrocarbons.


The economics is once the wider public realizes how severe climate change really is governments will be willing to pay a very high price to limit the impact.


Carbon credits do


There are surely others, but the ones coming to my mind right now:

- Agriculture: lots of CO2 are produced on-site under greenhouses by burning gas, because it speeds up the growing of crops.

- Sparkling drinks industry.


But the whole point is to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. These just put it back in again.


Yes you're right. One could argue though that those usages would avoid dirty sources of CO2.

But I agree that "avoiding to output more CO2" is not a replacement for "removing CO2", and this is very important indeed. It's just an additional war front, not a replacement.


A counter top Sodastream that pulled CO2 out of the air would be novel!.


Each burp would feel guilty though lol ^^;



Thank you so much for this!


Another company to watch in this space is Terraformation, using reforestation to efficiently offset carbon at scale.

See: https://medium.com/@yishan/a-massive-global-reforestation-pr...


Cool concept. I think these ideas are where the actual solution lies. Plants and trees can do a lot of carbon sequestersting--at scale no less.


I could be majorly misunderstanding how it works, but as far as I'm aware plants/trees are not really a solution. Plants are part of the carbon cycle and the issues is that we took sequestered carbon and injected it into the carbon cycle. To make plants a solution you would need to take all the plant matter after the plants die and sequester it somewhere where it can't decompose. I think planting trees helps delay large scale issues, but it doesn't actually solve the problem. Maybe there's some increased plant to land area ratio that means a larger percent of the carbon in the carbon cycle is always spent in solid plant form? Even if that's the case it requires always maintaining this amount of plants even as populations grow or cutting down trees after they grow and storing the wood in a vacuum chamber or something like that.


You make a good point, but I'm sure the rate of decay matters a lot in this situation as well. Properly treated wood used as building materials could last decades or even centuries without significantly decaying if planned and managed properly[0], but a dead tree on a forest floor will decay very quickly. If we start rapidly growing trees en masse, it might work almost as well to imagine some grand building projects in lieu of giant sealed burial pits. Likely, we would need to do both. And like each offered solution on this topic, plants alone will not fix everything. I'm also interested in some of the novel engineered materials we might be able to make with wood if we discover efficient processes to do so[1]. It irritates me a lot when people lazily say, "just plant trees", but they can for sure be part of the solution.

0. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190717-climate-change-w...

1. https://umdrightnow.umd.edu/news/umd-researchers-create-supe...


Plants ferry carbon into their roots and into the soil, where it remains in a stable form. Also, increased CO2 is only one of the reasons temperatures are rising. Cloud coverage has an impact on temperatures too, and plant transpiration puts a lot of water into the air, so even planting in soils that already are already saturated with carbon will have an impact.


Has anyone made a paperclips/cookieclicker-esq game about carbon sequestration yet?


Underrated comment


The USA does 5903 million metric tons of co2 annually [1]

You’d need 1.5 million of these to remove just the USA’s yearly co2 emissions.

[1] https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas...


True, for another perspective, one way across the atlantic is about 1 ton, so this is 2000 one way trips or (roughly) 10 flights of 200 people.

On the other hand, if this amount doubled every year, it would equal total US CO2 production in 21 years, total global CO2 production in 27 years.

Agree with the other comments that preventing emissions in the first place is far more efficient. Also, I think that CO2 removal is now included in many climate change models, so the benefit might not be too great.


> On the other hand [...]

This tells more about the ridiculous progression of exponential functions than about the efficiency of this process.


Agreed that doubling every year is wildly optimistic, other technological growth is much slower, e.g. mobile phones were about 36% annually between 1990 and 2018: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/IT.CEL.SETS.P2


> On the other hand, if this amount doubled every year, it would equal total US CO2 production in 21 years, total global CO2 production in 27 years.

So can we make the machines that make the carbon out of the carbon that the machines capture?


There are 1.7 million wells in the US, I don't think that number is a problem.


Yes, this is nowhere near a solution to global climate change/CO2 level management.

However, it might seem like a portion of the solution, at least one worth exploring (which seems like the point of this), for a small country with abundant free energy to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement. So, essentially, the Paris Agreement has created enough of a market for this technology to be worth further development and fielding, and that seems like a good thing.


That sounds doable and much easier than getting Americans to change their behavior.


To me this looks all like snake oil currently. The problem is, that carbon is not a pollutand (like fckw) but the energy carrier-source. So generally to take it out from the athmosphere you need more energy then you got from putting it into the athmosphere (backed by the laws of thermodynamics). So it would only make senso if you have huge (i mean HUGE) amount of renewable energy which somehow is too far away from the industry to use it directly. We are not at that stage. The real problem is to generate enough renewables. Then you can first start to replace your fossil plants by those and then later down the line maybe this technology starts to make sense. For iceland they could just build more aluminium plants now and this would probably be better for the total CO2 reduction.

An analogy: Its like we have a hydroelectric power plant, but people need so much power the water coming out of it is flooding towards the city to distroy it and there is an article 'scientists invented the 10 gallon bucket, allowing to move water back up the dam faster.'. I think this is also harmful, since these kind of successes might give people the wrong inpression where we actually stand.


You'd be correct if this system was reducing CO2 to elemental carbon, but in fact it stores CO2 in the earth, not carbon (or hydrocarbon). So it's equivalent to burning fossil carbon, extracting the CO2 from the exhaust stream, and storing that waste underground. The enthalpy of combustion of the fossil fuel that went into the atmospheric CO2 doesn't need to be recovered for this process, it only needs enough energy to concentrate atmospheric CO2 and pump it below ground into geological storage.


I am a bit suspect about storing co2 underground. I mean what is the common leakage rate? These storages will become the green house source of the future, or not?


What if we stored it as a liquid rather than a gas. Hmmm ... I've heard some things about C8H18 ...


They claim that it will react with basalt (specifically, the calcium in the basalt formations they are pumping it into) to form calcite minerals. Honestly, even if it's only sequestered for a hundred years (a geological eyeblink) that will give us some breathing space at least.


According to the article, they're building it right on top of a large existing geothermal power source in Iceland.


Yes. But it is a solution that does not and cannot scale.


It doesn't have to scale to be the single solution to CO2 level management on the planet. It only needs to scale to countries party to the Paris Agreement as a portion of their emissions control portfolio, and is obviously attractive to such countries with abundant renewable power sources.


What are the countries with abundant renewable power sources?


It is the word "significantly" that bugs me. It is "significant" for the individuals involved, but 4000 tons is not significant to the Earth system.

Enthusiasm for carbon storage of various kinds is driven by the desperation of our situation. You've probably seen the IPCC projections to the year 2100 -- the models did not stop in 2100, rather the IPCC chooses only to show up until that point. You might look at the IPCC charts and think "easily survivable to 2100", see the curves go exactly where the eye wants to follow to 6.5 degree C in 2200. (At that point I don't think homo sap will be burning fossil fuels 'significantly')

The economics look favorable to capture carbon from a fermentation process (think an ethanol plant in Brazil) then compress it to 1500 psi and inject it into a saline aquifer. You could capture more carbon if you burned the product and captured the CO2 there but either you have to strip the CO2 from the atmospheric nitrogen in the exhaust or remove the nitrogen before burning, say

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemical_looping_combustion

but the economics of the first option are all too well known (chemical engineers solve problems like that before breakfast) while the latter is largely undeveloped.

Despite all the talk, there has been very little implementation of the above BECCS technology even though the fermentation version did very well in trials.

Germany has managed to "generate enough renewables" to harm the economics of fossil fuel generation that fills in the gaps when the sun does not shine and the wind is not blowing. Fossil fuel methane from Russia with love. Capital costs of the associated gas turbines are low and helped to put steam-turbine dependent coal and nuclear power plants out of business. The trouble is that removing that last entrenched bit will be very hard in a world where they burn methane as the well-head.

(Nuclear power plants cannot win in terms of economics unless they ditch the steam turbine, that of course means developing a closed cycle gas turbine for nuclear use.)

Personal transport (cars) can be reformed when the feeling of crisis hits, but the development of sustainable fuels for aviation is decades behind that for cars, they are still trying to make "the right hydrocarbons" via the boondoggle Fischer-Tropsch process rather than productizing some reasonable molecule such as 1-butanol.

So hitting the braeks on CO2 output is not so easy, there is a case for carbon capture, my main concern is how you make the "apples and oranges" comparisons. Protecting rain forests is a great climate policy, but the economic value of CO2 captured by land use changes has to discount that the forest might get cut or burn up next year, that you can't measure it easily. Any kind of "carbon credit" will be colonized by Enron-style energy traders and directed towards things that look like they work as opposed to things that work.


Carbon removal is definitely required at this stage.

I read a lot of "Trees are _The_ solution"-esq news whenever Climeworks is brought up and while they do sequester carbon the reality is they are slow and cannot solely be used to lower atmospheric CO₂ levels.

Earth, as we know it today, has the potential to plant an additional 0.9 billion ha of canopy cover (~1.2 trillion trees)[0]

Trees will ultimately help in the long run, no doubt, but will need to be supported by a myriad of other methods such as Climeworks. Ryan Orbuch of Stripe wrote a great primer on some of the other carbon removal methods[1].

If you want to really take meaningful action, choose taking CO₂ out of the air over carbon credits. Even if we reduce to zero tomorrow there is still an excess of carbon dioxide already present in the atmosphere today.

[0] https://carbonremoved.com/learn/forestation/ [1] https://www.orbuch.com/carbon-removal/


I like the idea of stacking up a lot of 1 meter cubes of carbon into nice shapes. Each cube is just over 2 metric tons of carbon, or the equivalent of 8 metric tons of carbon dioxide. 20 cubic kilometers per year is enough to get us back to pre-industrial levels in no time, and build some interesting monuments while we're at it. A roughly 4-kilometer tall pyramid, anyone? Low low price of 2 trillion dollars each.


Interesting concept!

I came across a company making CO₂ negative thermo-plastics the other day[0] which is the closest so far I think we can come to your idea :-)

[0]https://www.madeofair.com/


> If you want to really take meaningful action, choose taking CO₂ out of the air over carbon credits. Even if we reduce to zero tomorrow there is still an excess of carbon dioxide already present in the atmosphere today.

Why not both? Allow companies to buy additional carbon credits from co2 sinks? Allow companies to decide between stopping a harmful industrial process or paying for its externalities.


Fundamentally I agree but only if choosing to do both, not either or.

To truly reverse the emissions an individual or company has, Carbon Removal is really the only way.

Carbon credits _can_ encourage businesses to reduce their emissions (and if a company has money to help - great!) but reducing a third-parties emissions is not a green-light to justify my own wrongdoings.

If I emit a ton and pay credits to offset a ton, a ton is still out there. If I emit a ton and remove a ton I am at net zero emissions.


> If I emit a ton and pay credits to offset a ton, a ton is still out there

The basic idea is to allow companies to ramp down their emissions by releasing fewer credits each year.

I could see a compromise being that one carbon credit is worth a tonne of carbon emissions, but two tonnes of sequestered carbon. So companies would have to pay for the removal of some factor of what they produce.


I like it - having the ability to both support sequestering and the transitioning of others with a single "credit".


Random question - At what scale do we need to do this to get back to where the planet was 50 years back?


3210 gigatonnes of CO2 in the atmosphere (410ppm)

275 ppm (Target PPM, based on pre-industrial levels)

3210 gigatonnes - ((3210 gigatonnes / 410) * 275) = 1057 gigatonnes to remove.

Advertised scale: 4000 tons per year

(1057 gigatonnes / 4000 tons per year) = 264250000 years

reasonable timeline: 30 years

30 years / 264250000 years = 8808333x increase needed. Call it roughly 10^7 times faster.

So, a lot.


Well, we're adding a bit over 30 gigatonnes per year (33 last year). 4000 (tons) * 1.102 = 4408.000 (metric tonnes). 1 gigatonne = 1,000,000,000 metric tonnes So each year we're emitting enough that this particular scale of capture would require:

33,000,000,000 / 4408 = ~7486388 years to remove.

All the vegetation, land, and ocean can absorb about 17 Gt CO2 per year (Currently. Of course massively burning forests or increasingly carbon saturated oceans are going to significantly impact this equation as things get worse.)

So this technology would need to get at least 16,000,000,000 / 4408 = 3629764 times more effective just to keep things from getting any worse. And even so, this still seems like one of the more hopeful options because artificial capture could potentially be scaled much higher using less space than vegetation, given enough renewable energy. But even more efficient is simply emitting less carbon.


> 275 ppm (Target PPM, based on pre-industrial levels)

Who says this is the ideal level to be at?


Me, I say. That's the atmospheric level as of 1776, before large-scale industrial intervention. Good enough for George Washington, good enough for me.

If you have other opinions, by all means, do your own math :)


https://cdiac.ess-dive.lbl.gov/images/air_bubbles_historical...

There are dozens, hundreds more studies, graphs, and other data to answer that question. At this point, due to the overwhelming amount of research data available, this kind of question should be considered as made in bad faith.


This graph does not answer the question at all. Why is not the ideal level 100? 200? 300? 500? If you have never been at 500 how would you know if the outcome is actually detrimental overall? You can't make models when you don't have historical data outside of your training set, that's a very simple rule that everyone can understand.

Al Gore made ridiculous claims back in 2008 about how bad it would get in just 10 years (making it seem that the trend was linear, which it isn't) and he was completely wrong on most of them - so the question I raise is very much valid.


[flagged]


Posts like these make me wonder if lizard people actually exist and have a conspiracy to use monkeys to return the world to a state they can thrive in without minions. An /s but barely.

The last time CO2 levels were at levels we see today humans had not evolved yet. The last time 1000ppm CO2 was in the atmosphere the apex predators were giant carnivorous birds.

We are looking at billions of deaths from climate change if we stopped producing CO2 tomorrow and tens of thousands of years until the climate returns to pre-industrial levels.


> We are looking at billions of deaths from climate change if we stopped producing CO2 tomorrow and tens of thousands of years until the climate returns to pre-industrial levels.

This seems to me to be the more absurd position. The challenge of “returning the climate to pre-industrial levels” is easily solvable without any magical technology with merely tens of trillions of dollars. Given a few decades additional progress in rocketry, perhaps only a low single digit trillion dollars per decade (indexed to current real value).

Assuming a materials science advancement which permits a functional space-elevator, or the ability to do some manufacturing on the moon, it gets significantly cheaper even than that.


The assumption that industrial civilization is possible in 50 years is the absurd proposition.


The good thing about political systems you don't like is that you can stop it and go back to "normal" within a generation or two. Undoing climate change becomes essentially impossible once the permafrost starts melting. If the permafrost releases even 1% of its carbon per year, that effectively doubles GHG emissions. No realistic amount of fusion provides enough energy to suck that back out of the atmosphere.


You forgot stabilizing pop growth.


Population growth hasn't been the problem for decades.

The problem is per-capita consumption. The "westernization" of India and China is 2.5-3 billion people that want western consumption patterns.


> Population growth hasn't been the problem for decades.

Of course it is. Populations always eventually demand development, aka "westernization". So as the world population grows, so does the consumption.


> So as the world population grows, so does the consumption.

This includes dairy + meat consumption, where about 70 billion animals are farmed for food each year right now. When someone brings up that humans are overpopulating the planet, I've never heard someone mention that overpopulating the planet with livestock is also an issue.


Nonsense.

Someone always brings up agricultural emissions.

The Australian government talks about it directly here:

https://www.agriculture.gov.au/ag-farm-food/climatechange/au...


I've always wondered if someone could bio-engineer particularly dense wood as a way to sequester carbon. But I admit, I know next to nothing about how anyone would go about doing that and what the constraints would be, other than its extremely tough to make genetic engineering work.


There is active research into engineering crops for increased CO2 incorporation rates and subsequent passage to soils. In this case the carbon sink is the terrestrial landmass itself, not the plant. This would have the added benefit of restoring degraded soil.


There already are some like the Empress tree. A big problem with any super trees is that they tend to be highly invasive


That seems like a good thing if you are serious about scaling up their use...


Instead of scaling up like that, there are other ways that take advantage of positive feedback loops and decentralization — that is, a technology that can go “viral”.

There would not be a single source of failure. Such a system can be self -healing. It can potentially be adaptive if local people are able to implement it in ways that make sense for their place and community. (Otherwise, it runs into the same kind if globalist mindset from high modernity).

You don’t have to find a single tree species to do this. Instead, you look at what is already growing in the local area and plant those. Doing it that way solves way more problems than carbon emissions. We are talking about food forests (solve the food distribution problem), emotional and mental health (humans recover from illnesses better when they can see trees), resiliency (from decentralized food systems and biodiversity), and so on.


I mean you could in theory make a plant so good that it would outcompete almost any other plants. Then you might get a fungus or other disease that targets that monoculture and can now easily jump through the whole globe since it's covered in the same super plant. Being invasive is not a good feature.


That isn't what invasive means. At all.


Can you elaborate? Invasive means many things https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/invasives/


There is a better available technology. Look up biochar sometime.


From Wikipedia:

> Once initialized, both processes produce net energy. For typical inputs, the energy required to run a "fast" pyrolyzer is approximately 15% of the energy that it outputs. Modern pyrolysis plants can use the syngas created by the pyrolysis process and output 3–9 times the amount of energy required to run.

Wow, that's impressive. I had not heard about this before, and I'm impressed that this is a sustainable process that may produce durable carbon sequestration. Thanks for the tip!


This seems completely ridiculous. If it was profitable to do then companies would be doing it directly at the source of emissions more much efficiently.


Realistically carbon removal will only happen after we removed most carbon emission sources. Carbon removal will likely be more expensive than reducing emissions for decades to come. This is a future technology for the time, for the "fuck, we already produced far too much emissions, what do we do now?"


We're well past that point.

The things are melting.

Stopping all CO2 production tomorrow isn't going to re-freeze the melty bits.


This is of course only profitable within an emissions tax/trade framework, and hopefully those will extend to the factories causing emissions and thus enabling them to take part (by avoiding the tax imposed on their products by responsible countries).

Nevertheless, that can only decrease the addition of CO2, while this can potentially reduce the absolute amount in due course.


It isn't profitable because these cost of CO₂ generation is just externalized to nature.


I first heard if this tech from the Netflix series, Down To Earth.

I think sequestering the carbon into the soil through plants is a better idea. The mineralization will not be bioavailable in the ecosystem. It isn’t as if carbon itself is a bad thing so much as its excess amount in the atmosphere. Futhermore, having more plants and fungi and living ecosystems fixes other problems besides greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Or better yet, fix the underlying thing on our global civilization’s obsession with technology that emits all of this in the first place. I am not necessarily talking about the tech so much as why we in our society think we can’t live without it.


The reality of the situation is such that we need to do all of the above. We must decarbonize the global economy. We still have to remove much of the carbon we’ve already emitted. In order to reach the scale required, we need to commercialize both biospheric and mechanical solutions to carbon removal.

I would also argue that it’s not society that can’t live without hydrocarbons as much as it is the entrenched industries that profit from them.


I also think the entrenched industries profit from them too. More fundamentally, it is a paradigm of value extraction that is deeply embedded as a value within our civilization.

The profit motive are driven by individuals who seek to accumulate wealth and control access to them. That same game is played by people who don’t have wealth yet expect the tide to raise all boats. But we also compare ourselves to other people to give ourselves a sense of progress. The general ethical principles do not include a relationship with place, land, communities.


The bright side of it, if there is one, is that the modern industrial pace of extraction has not gone on that long - fewer generations than you can fit on your fingers.

So the cultural hole we are in is really just a few hundred years deep, not thousands. It's just not so visible that that is the case, except perhaps to some indigenous cultures, or those who have visited the undeveloped world. This capacity for self-harm was built by forgetting our holistic selves and putting other things first - work, wealth, fame and glory, the national interest. It'll take a little work, but we can remember.


Lovely stuff, our society may be imperfect, but our material well-being is not something to be dismissed. Our secure food supply, sanitation, clean drinking water, medicine, and ability to adjust the climate to a comfortable level are absolutely marvellous achievements and dependent upon resource extraction. I’d hate to think anyone would suggest we should regress a millimetre away from that.

We need to find ways to satiate our hunger for resources in a sustainable manner (or find a way to import them from a nearby object in space), but we shouldn’t be ashamed of the progress we’ve made.


There's this basic assumption that the current level of our basic needs and creature comforts cannot be replicated with alternate paradigms. Some of the way we do things now are ineffective or even, inefficient.

Let's take clean drinking water and sanitation. We have buildings and machines that take river water and aquifer water and purify the water to drinking level standards. We then pipe them (and sometimes those pipes have toxic buildups), introduce chlorine to help maintain its safety when delivering water.

But then we use that drinking-level standard water to (1) water our landscape and (2) flush the toilet.

That's kinda like that use of a microchip capable of running Doom to read the a paper strip on a preganancy test. (It made its round on twitter last couple of days).

To look at it a bigger picture and more abstractly, we're cleaning our human wastes using the hydrological cycle rather than the carbon cycle.

There's a community outside of Taos, NM that experiments with what are called earthship designs. (There are actual people living for years inside these earthships). These earthships are designed so that waste water cycles through the system three times before feeding a leach field, using landscaping plants to clean the waste (carbon cycle). By that I mean, clean water for drinking and washing gets reused as grey water, cleaned by plants, and then reused as toilet flushing water.

That integrated greenhouse is also a part of a passive heating and cooling system that keeps the inner environment a comfortable 70 - 80 degrees, with vents that can adjust the temperature. It maintains that temperature range in a high desert. In addition to temperature regulation, greenhouse provides supplemental food, part of the water purifications system.

That covers sanitation, adjusting climate, and some answer to a more secure food supply. I can deep dive what it means to have a distributed, decentralized food supply (in which compared to our centralized food supply that is fragile, ecologically disasterous, and not really nutritious for humans).

Our medical system is very good at treating acute problems, but very poor at treating chronic issues. It is generally not holistic, and there are blinders in the paradigms that prevent researchers from looking into effective treatments. Furthermore, in the US, medical care is in a runaway feedback loop between insurers and providers, significantly increasing costs for everyone. (Except say, the Amish. They get significant discounts from the hospitals because they always pay a large upfront deposite in cash before service, pay their bills, and have a religious sanction against suing the hospital and doctors). I can also deep dive on this, though the solutions here are murkier than what I can say about decentralized food systems.

But the main thing is: sustainability is _not_ enough. That is essentially saying, "do less harm". Baked into that paradigm is that the harm from our current practices is inevitable, so we should strive to do the least amount of harm with that inevitability.

Instead, we should be looking at regenerative practices, and one that is not anthropocentric. It requires a different way of seeing. We don't have to "regress". We can do a lot better.


> But then we use that drinking-level standard water to (1) water our landscape and (2) flush the toilet.

Doing otherwise would require a massive duplicate water distribution network for non-drinkable water.

> There's a community outside of Taos, NM that experiments with what are called earthship designs. (There are actual people living for years inside these earthships). These earthships are designed so that waste water cycles through the system three times before feeding a leach field, using landscaping plants to clean the waste (carbon cycle). By that I mean, clean water for drinking and washing gets reused as grey water, cleaned by plants, and then reused as toilet flushing water.

There are more scaleable to recycle water, but I am generally in favour of the concept.

> That integrated greenhouse is also a part of a passive heating and cooling system that keeps the inner environment a comfortable 70 - 80 degrees, with vents that can adjust the temperature. It maintains that temperature range in a high desert. In addition to temperature regulation, greenhouse provides supplemental food, part of the water purifications system.

That sounds labour intensive and non-scalable. How big would this green house/ water recycling solution need to be to power a single apartment building? How many people would be required to keep it up and running? What’s keeping this green house warm?

> Our medical system is very good at treating acute problems, but very poor at treating chronic issues. It is generally not holistic, and there are blinders in the paradigms that prevent researchers from looking into effective treatments. Furthermore, in the US, medical care is in a runaway feedback loop between insurers and providers, significantly increasing costs

I wouldn’t use the American system as a basis for a critique of modern medicine. Every other developed country is able to avoid the mess you described.

> But the main thing is: sustainability is _not_ enough. That is essentially saying, "do less harm". Baked into that paradigm is that the harm from our current practices is inevitable, so we should strive to do the least amount of harm with that inevitability. > Instead, we should be looking at regenerative practices, and one that is not anthropocentric. It requires a different way of seeing. We don't have to "regress". We can do a lot better.

You are going to have to be more concrete than that. Every living creature consumes resources from their environment and every creature will destroy their native environment unless held in check by predators or some other external limiting factor. Humans are the only animals to understand this, so we have the ability to moderate consumption.


>> But then we use that drinking-level standard water to (1) water our landscape and (2) flush the toilet.

> Doing otherwise would require a massive duplicate water distribution network for non-drinkable water.

No, we don't. Water can be cycled onsite for other uses. It does not require anything massive or a duplicate water distribution network. For example, a Y-switch can be used on the outflow from a washingmachine, with one fork distributing it to the landscaping.

> That sounds labour intensive and non-scalable. How big would this green house/ water recycling solution need to be to power a single apartment building? How many people would be required to keep it up and running? What’s keeping this green house warm?

It's mostly automated, using low-tech, passive methods. The water cycles through the plants on its own. It has the added benefits that you can get fresh food. You would plant perennials, not annuals, that are selected to form cooperative interactions (plant guilds). That significantly reduces the amount of labor to maintain it, though labor is involved for harvesting.

I think you are misunderstanding what the greenhouses in those earthships do. You have to first understand it in context: New Mexico high desert, with extremes in heat and cold. The greenhouses acts as a passive buffer to regulate temperature of the main living areas, and does not require active cooling or heating. Between the sun, the trapped moisture, and the plants own heat regulation biomechanism, it reduces the volatility in temperature extremes.

This type of system does not work without the construction method to build these houses. For other sites, you'd have to come up with different solutions. I don't know, for example, if earthships work in temperate (Mid-West), or extreme colds (Alaska). But I know they will work for most of the Southwest US.

As far as scaling up to something the size of an apartment building, I have no idea. The earthship designs share similar ideas with Arcosanti (in Arizona), which is probably one of the largest scale implementation for passive heating and cooling.

Generally, within a larger pool of people, there are going to some people who are interested in tending the plants. As far harvesting, I think you'd be surprised by how many people would be willing to participate in being able to harvest free, fresh food close to where they live.

> You are going to have to be more concrete than that. Every living creature consumes resources from their environment and every creature will destroy their native environment unless held in check by predators or some other external limiting factor. Humans are the only animals to understand this, so we have the ability to moderate consumption.

That's a false assumption. Although there are plenty of examples of species that will run without check, there are also examples of species that cooperate with each other.

As far as being concrete, what I was talking about is the lens, or the paradigm in which we interpret facts and understand the world. That isn't something concrete.


It wasn’t bioavailable buried in the ground as oil or coal, so that doesn’t seem like an important concern to me.


It may not have been bioavailable as oil or coal, but it is possible to sequester carbon in a way that accumulates fertility in the soil. That not only restores the declining fertility we have in general, by increasing fertility in general, people are better able to feed themselves in general.

Furthermore, greater fertility supports a greater diversity of ecosystems, which enhances the resiliency of the overall living system. Greater overall resiliency helps bring basic security to the people and the land (the basic level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs), and enables us to develop our own potential (self actualization), and our relationships within our ecosystem.

As an example, carbon can be sequestered in the form of biochar. Carbon in that form is not bioavailable to plants so much as bioavailable to fungi. The fungis don’t consume it so much as live in it. It becomes hydrophillic, and allows the soil to hold a lot more water and nutrients. That in turn enables greater fertility. Since it is not consumed, it can act as a long-lasting soil amendment (greater than a thousand years).

Human-made biochar is the reason there are some spots in the Amazon that supports and holds a great deal of fertility, enough to support a vast civilization (that only got destroyed by infectious disease from Europe during the colonial period). Without biochar, the frequent rain washes away nutrients, making those part of the jungle fragile.


>by increasing fertility in general, people are better able to feed themselves in general.

but if you're using that fertile soil to grow food, wouldn't that mean the carbon is going to be un-sequestered?


Your question is answered in detail, and in the negative, in the very post you're replying to.


it's a bit of an intentionally snarky response but any time anyone talks about machines to do it, I always reply: they already exist, they're called _trees_.


Respectfully ignoring the snark, we have an immediate problem and tress aren't fast enough, take up too much land, and the land needs to be suitable.

I've watched the past 30-odd years - and my father for 50-odd years before that - as fertile farmland with good reliable rain (this is not a common combination in Australia) has been built-over with housing. Agriculture has been pushed further out to areas with less fertility and rainfall.

Most of the remaining wide open spaces in Australia can support little more than bush and patches of grass. All the good land with rainfall has people living on it.


This is a problem all over.

Before it was Silicon Valley, the Peninsula was said to be the best citrus growing land on Earth.

It's a nice place to live, don't get me wrong. But I can't help feeling like growing detached single-family homes instead wasn't a good trade.


You, or anyone else here, can reverse this trade today by buying up homes, demolishing them, and planting citrus trees.

You wouldn't make a profit doing so though, which tells you that the collective hivemind that makes up the economy prefers houses over trees.


Indeed. A lot of problems are solved by having less people on the planet, and ultimately that will happen whether planned or not.


That's true.

It's also true that, if I wanted to build a nice subdivision under El Capitan in Yosemite, I would find that I'm quite unable. The collective hivemind that makes up the body politic prefers a national park over houses.

So now that we've acknowledged that Mammon isn't the only god in our pantheon, perhaps we can make better decisions on that basis, going forward.


Yes, thats sucks.

For that specific problem, you could imagine policies allowing you some kind of 'zoning swap' - where you get a bit of land in one physical location and swap all laws, covenants, and restrictions for land in another region. Obviously you might not have a 1:1 exchange rate...


Youcould set up a collective farm, where a neighborhood essentially owns a farm.


Or you could just grow trees on top of your houses!


> take up too much land,

Most of the land on Earth is not used by humans. Where are we lacking space, exactly?


Most of the fertile land is in fact used by humans. And planting trees in remote areas is not good either: you need to cut them down and actually sequester the carbon if you want to do something about climate change. Just having stable forests is a far too small carbon sink (and the change in albedo from dark trees actually works against you in many areas of the world). Reforestation is good, but trees alone are not enough.


Trees aren't enough to scale up. You can play with toggling deforestation and reforestation here: https://en-roads.climateinteractive.org/scenario.html?p50=0....

Even in the most optimistic scenarios, it's clear that we'll need additional carbon capture to avoid situations like 3-4 degrees C of warming.


> Or better yet, fix the underlying thing on our global civilization’s obsession with technology that emits all of this in the first place. I am not necessarily talking about the tech so much as why we in our society think we can’t live without it.

What a fatalistic view of the future.


Are they really going to beat the efficiency of trees or algae? I highly doubt it


It's extremely easy to beat the efficiency of photosynthesis since plants are so inefficient. The highest estimate I have seen for carbon sequestration by trees is 7 tons of CO2 per acre, which doesn't include losses from converting wood to biochar for long term carbon capture. Direct air capture of CO2 requires about 2000 KWh per ton of CO2. An acre of solar panels produces an average of 357000 KWh of electricity per year. That means that direct air capture is at least 25x more efficient at converting solar energy to captured CO2. That efficiency is important considering the scale at which we will need to sequester carbon in the next few decades. Cost efficiency is a different matter, but even then I believe direct air capture will beat biochar very soon if it hasn't already.


Why we are blindly fixated at CO2 only? The artificial cure may be worse than disease. Plants sequester other substances and retain water, regulate temperatures and is home to biodiversity. With artificial solution we will endup with dead deserts of hard to recycle hardware. Nature did it better for millions of years.


Bio-solutions will definitely make up the future of carbon removal but while nature was able to keep itself in equilibrium for millions of years a few centuries of human behaviour has thrown it out of balance. Humans will need to undo their own damage _and_ restore nature.


Until carbon sequestration can make bricks or another useful material as a carbon sink, it'll sit as a niche own used for virtue signaling by politicians rather than actual change that moves the meter.


Not even bricks as by time they will become garbage and yet another recycling issue. We would need to dump it back deep underground into mineshafts and oil wells.


They might be able to beat the efficiency of trees on a land area basis.



So if humans are putting 38 billion tons into the atmosphere every year does this even make a dent?


https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/12/magazine/climeworks-busin.... In the very short term, probably not; in the longer term, yeah:

The company’s ambitions for mass production may still seem extreme. To actually capture 1 percent of the world’s carbon emissions by 2025 would, by Gebald’s calculations, require that Climeworks build 250,000 carbon-capture plants like the ones on the roof at Hinwil. That adds up to about 4.5 million carbon collectors. For a company that has only built 100 collectors (and has 14 small plants around Europe), it’s a staggering number. The Climeworks founders therefore try to think of their product as the automotive industry might — a piece of mass-produced technology and metal, not the carbon they hope to sequester. “What we’re doing is gas separation,” Wurzbacher said, “and that’s traditionally a process-industry business, like oil and gas. But we don’t really see ourselves there.”

The founders note that Toyota makes more than 10 million cars annually. “Every CO₂ collector has about the same weight and dimensions of a car — roughly two tons, and roughly 2 meters by 2 meters by 2 meters,” Gebald said. “And all the methods used to produce the CO₂ collectors could be well automated. So we have the automotive industry as a model for how to produce things in large quantities for low cost.” The two men have already sought advice from Audi. They are also aware that the automotive industry perfected its methods over the course of 100 years. Climeworks, if it plans to have even a modest impact, doesn’t have nearly as much time.

Part of the goal is to have the technology ready to go, so that when the U.S. finally wakes up and realizes the peril, we'll have a response.


A better question is, is it cost effective? If it can scale up and be somewhere below $20-$40/Ton then it has a bright future.

A big chunk of humanity’s CO2 emissions come from sources that are hard to remove, like farming and concrete production. Getting to net zero or negative carbon will require a lot of sequestration.


I think it would help to further divide cost in to capital cost and energy efficiency. The transition to renewables is going to require a lot of over provisioning.

For example, it would be madness to store excess solar power in the summer to be used to cover the winter shortfall. You just build enough panels to make it through the winter, and have excess energy in the summer. Much cheaper than building storage of any form that's only used for 30 cycles in its lifetime.

A solution that is capital efficient can sit around, waiting to be turned on when there's excess energy. When the wind is blowing and the sun is shining, it's basically free.

If you need to run the plant even 25% of the time for it to make sense, it's not going to be able to take advantage of these fluctuations and that's going to make it a much tougher sell.

This is why I'm hopeful for hydrogen for storage; over provisioning hydrolysis capacity is not intrinsically difficult, and low efficiency isn't a deal breaker when you don't have anything else to do with the excess.


38,000,000,000/4000 = 9,500,000 plants needed to get to net zero, just for the the carbon we are currently putting out, to say nothing of all the carbon currently causing warming...

Seems reasonable to say no.


How much carbon release is needed to make 9,500,000 plants..


Reasonable if you assume that progress of this technology has already plateaued. I'm pretty sure we could be putting a lot more money behind this and we would see substantial improvements to efficiency (i.e. $/kg/year).

We need every tool we can get to fight this thing.


There are 3.04 trillion trees on earth.


A tree absorbs around 20kg of carbon dioxide a year while growing. To sequester 38 Gigatons you'd need to plant and cut down and bury around 10^12 trees each year, give or take an order of magnitude or two.


Don't forget the oceans as part of the equation.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_storage_of_carbon_dioxid...


Don't forget the positive feeds backs: large scale wild fires (releases CO2, check out how much a great Amazon fire would release), melting permafrost (releases both CO2 and Methane), and desertification (less natural carbon sinks).


Let's see :)

https://xkcd.com/605/


In the distant past we had much higher CO2 levels but the sun was also about 4% weaker.

At this price point, launching a few million tons of solar shades into the L1 Lagrange point is probably more economical.


What's the price point? I didn't see anything in the article/press release.


Solar shading is on the order of $1 trillion per decade, assuming SuperHeavy+Starship and full reusability as I recall ($10,000 per ton). As a bonus, the capability to launch 10s of millions of tons to orbit fundamentally changes the capability and reach of humanity.

Sucking gigatons of CO2 from the air at the current efficiency is basically infinite dollars, but it could conceivably be cost competitive with the solar shade in a few decades. It basically just requires massive amounts of fully renewable energy, so the benefit is it’s a massive renewable energy generation subsidy.

But renewables are already more than cost competitive, the problem we have now is energy storage (batteries).


I mean, maybe a solar shade is possible, but it still requires a massive engineering investment and maybe has some accidental risks like “ends photosynthesis” (which is hyperbole, but still, it’s a big one shot project with global consequences).

DAC has limitations that likely keep it from being the sole solution to CO2 levels, but it can be developed incrementally without much risk and then deployed on the margins where it makes sense (e.g., on top of geothermal, in the Sahara next to a PV array).


The L1 Lagrange point is not perfectly stable. Anything we put there would drift after about a decade. So it requires constant upkeep but also means nothing you do there can be catastrophic.

Both technologies are not “one-shot” but rather are things which are deployed along a spectrum measured in “gigatons of CO2 extracted” or “tons of diffractive material deployed”.

You don’t put one big mirror in place as a binary thing. You deploy thousands to millions of tons of “mirrors” overall, ~100 tons at a time. Imagine a payload of carbon fiber snowflakes which get dropped off, coated in such a way that they self orient broad-side toward the sun.

I wonder what the effective carbon offset of 100 tons of diffractive material at L1 buys you. Given that you could draw a direct cost/benefit comparison.


Lol, so rather than sending the energy elsewere to stop CO2 being released (there are many ways to do this, currently Iceland does it through Aluminium production) we do something useless like putting CO2 into the ground.

If only we could do some sort of bio-tech and create some sort of plant that could convert solar energy in sequestered CO2. Plants are pretty useless as well I guess.

Random fact Iceland abundance of energy is from dams and nothing to do with geothermal, that's just for branding because it's cool and people can't think.


Silly q: don't we need to also remove co2 from the upper atmosphere as well? How much missing is there with the lower atmosphere?




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