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How to Tackle Atmospheric CO2 – Prevention or Treatment?

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Tackling CO2

The United States Geological Survey has identified two primary sources for carbon dioxide gas to come into the atmosphere: natural sources and human activity sources. Most animals living on Earth are natural carbon sources as they exhale carbon dioxide as waste. However, many human activities cause carbon dioxide emissions. These activities include some of the most crucial functions for human civilization, including energy production by burning coal, oil, or natural gas. 

Carbon dioxide is the most commonly produced greenhouse gas, a gas in the Earth's atmosphere that traps heat. Characteristically, carbon dioxide differs from oxygen and nitrogen – gasses that account for most of our atmosphere – as it absorbs the heat radiated from the Earth's surface and releases it back to the Earth's direction. 

But if carbon dioxide is such a naturally occurring phenomenon, why do we need to tackle it? It is because of the consequences it brings to the Earth. 

Why Do We Need to Tackle Atmospheric CO2?

Carbon dioxide serves a crucial purpose for our planet Earth. The problem is not with its presence in the atmosphere but with the excess of it. If there were no carbon dioxide, it would be almost impossible for the Earth's natural greenhouse effect to keep the average global surface temperature above freezing. But by emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, we are supercharging the natural greenhouse effect, resulting in a rise of global temperature beyond sustainable levels. 

The Excess Presence of Carbon Dioxide in Our Atmosphere

According to a report published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the growth of Carbon Dioxide in our atmosphere continues to be rapid. In 2022, the global surface average for Carbon Dioxide rose by 2.13 parts per million (ppm) to 417.06 ppm. The report also noted the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to be 50% higher than pre-industrial levels. 2022 was the 11th consecutive year when Carbon Dioxide increased by more than two ppm annually. Before 2013, carbon dioxide never grew by more than two ppm for three consecutive years in a row. 

There are other greenhouse gasses, like methane and nitrous oxide, in our atmosphere. But none of them contributes to global warming as much as Carbon Dioxide does. 

According to the NOAA, the Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI) was 1.49 by the end of 2021. The index implied that the direct warming influence of human-produced greenhouse gasses had risen 49% above the 1990 baseline. More importantly, nearly two-thirds of the total heating imbalance was due to carbon dioxide. 

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide: The Most Important Contributor to Climate Change

We need to tackle carbon dioxide planfully and strategically because it contributes to climate change the most. 

The burning of fossil fuels has been the biggest driver of this exponential rise in atmospheric Carbon Dioxide. Emissions from the burning of fossil fuels have increased from 10.9 billion tons per year in the 1960s to about 36.6 billion tons per year in 2022. 

What paints a graver picture is the fact that the volume of carbon dioxide that we have in the atmosphere today is comparable to what it was 4.3 million years ago. It was when the sea level was close to 75 feet higher than today, with the average temperature 7 degrees Fahrenheit higher than pre-industrial levels. 

Not devising a way to efficiently tackle atmospheric carbon dioxide would be equal to attempts, although indeliberate, made at going back to that era. 

It is no wonder that tackling atmospheric carbon dioxide has become a core concern worldwide. The question is, how do we tackle it? Do we look at it as a problem that can be treated, cured, and reversed? Or do we look at it as something that has to be prevented and stopped from further aggravation before it gets alarmingly unmanageable? 

While it would be premature to pass judgment this early, we need to be aware of solutions being developed around us to understand the visions and potential solutions the scientific community globally is thinking of. 

Click here to learn all about investing in biotech stocks working on global warming.

Solar Farms: A Better Way to Combat Climate Change than Plantation?

The Weizmann Institute of Science has recently carried out a study that shows the benefits of building solar farms over planting forests in arid regions.

But what are solar farms? It is creating a ‘forest' out of solar panels. The study suggests building a field replete with dark-colored solar panels, which will positively impact the climate by replacing power stations that run on traditional fossil fuels such as coal or gas. The reduction in harmful emissions of greenhouse gasses will help the climate by reversing the effects of carbon dioxide, methane, or nitrous oxide.  

According to Dr. Rafael Stern and Dr. Jonathan Muller, two researchers involved in the project, the study ‘unequivocally shows that in arid environments, where most of the open land reserves exist, building solar farms is far more effective than planting forests when it comes to dealing with the climate crisis.'

These solar panels, despite being far smaller than forests, can offset the same quantity of emissions. To be more precise, to offset the same quantity of emissions, these solar forests require one-hundredth of the space that a traditional forest demands. 

However, while making sense of the achievements of these innovations and noting down the benefits the study has to offer, we must also keep in mind that these solar panels can never replace our forests. Forests serve a lot more purposes other than curbing emissions, including the safekeeping of a global rain cycle, maintaining biodiversity, and much more. 

There are several other innovations and initiatives underway to tackle Carbon Dioxide better. Some of these are happening at enterprise levels as well. The concept of the color rainbow, developed by Unilever, is one such example.


1.Unilever

Unilever has come up with the concept of Colour Rainbow to identify alternative carbon sources that can replace carbon emitted out of fossil fuel, which is non-renewable. The Carbon Rainbow comprises Purple Carbon from Carbon Dioxide, Blue Carbon from marine sources, Green carbon from plants, and Grey Carbon from plastic waste. 

As evidenced by their categorization, purple carbon deals directly with atmospheric carbon dioxide. It points towards the concept and benefits of capturing Carbon Dioxide from industrial emissions or the atmosphere. Being a consumer products giant, Unilever's innovative concept aims to capture the purple carbon to process it into useful ingredients so that it can be sent to production and turned into a usable consumer product. The product will be made in such a way that after disposal, its remains go back to the environment as the formulation biodegrades. 

According to Jon Hague, the Head of Clean Future, Science and Technology for Home Care at Unilever, the company has already introduced OMO laundry liquid capsules in China, Sunlight dishwashing liquid in South Africa, and Coral laundry liquid in Germany. According to Mr Hague, “It's just one example of how we're reinventing the chemistry of our Home Care products to create growth opportunities for our brands while cutting the use of fossil fuels.”

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In the financial year 2022, Unilever had an annual turnover of more than 60 billion Euros, with an operating margin close to 18% and more than 4.3 billion Euros paid in dividends. 

2. Linde Engineering

Linde Engineering positions its HISORP® CC adsorption-based carbon capture solution as the latest addition to its carbon capture portfolio. It is compatible with a wide range of carbon sources and capable of delivering the CO2 product in the desired concentration and physical state.

The solution can tackle atmospheric CO2 coming from flue gasses from power generation, off-gasses from integrated steel mills, flue gasses from steam methane reforming, process gasses from cement and hydrogen production, and carbon dioxide-rich streams generated from oxy-fuel combustion and chemical production. 

These solutions can not only capture and prevent carbon dioxide from mixing into the atmosphere but can also purify it to the level required by various use cases in the industry. The industries it feeds with purified carbon dioxide include food and beverages and electronics applications. 

The solution can also sequester the CO2 to mitigate the climate impact of industrial processes that depend on burning carbon-based fuels. Linde Engineering's HISORP® CC promises to achieve a capture rate of up to 99.7%. 

The solution is also beneficial as it is solely electrically driven and can run entirely with 100% renewable power. Since it does not consume any steam, it has zero additional CO2 footprint. The solution comes in prefabricated skid-built units that require minimized construction efforts. It also does not require any handling, make-up, or disposal of chemicals and does not have any sensitivity against oxygen. 

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Linde reported its full-year and fourth-quarter 2022 results in February 2023 with annual sales of US$33 billion

3. Edinburgh Sensors 

Edinburg Sensors' solution is an infrared gas sensor that monitors the levels of extracted CO2. Climeworks, a Swiss company specializing in carbon dioxide air capture technology, uses Gascard NG to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. 

Gascard NG comes with real-time temperature and atmospheric pressure correction via onboard sensors. It can also incorporate additional gas detection technologies. Apart from carbon dioxide, Gascard NG can also detect and measure atmospheric methane and carbon monoxide. 

Founded in 1974 and headquartered out of Livingstone, West Lothian, United Kingdom, Edinburgh Sensors is a privately held company

4. Climeworks

One of the most innovative companies in this field is Climeworks, which has developed a direct air capture technology to arrest carbon dioxide directly from the air. It reduces the atmospheric concentration of CO₂ by only using renewable energy, energy-from-waste, or other waste heat as energy sources.

To be more specific, Climeworks' direct air capture technology is a three-step process. The first step involves drawing the air through a fan located inside the collector to pass it through a filter placed inside the collector and trap the carbon dioxide particles. The collector closes when the filter is completely full of carbon dioxide. The temperature, in the process, rises to about 100°C, eventually causing the filter to release the carbon dioxide for collection. 

The Climeworks solution has several benefits:

  1. It is location-independent.
  2. It is highly scalable and measurable.
  3. It is a highly space-efficient solution.

Climeworks claims to require less land than many other techniques. On a land area of 0.42 acres, the Climeworks Orca plant can remove 4,000 tons of CO₂ from the air annually, almost 1,000 times more effective than trees. The same land could host around 220 trees with an estimated capacity of 22 kg each, resulting in only 4.62 tons of CO₂ removed per year. 

In April 2022, Climeworks completed an equity fundraising of USD 650 million.


With Awareness, More Action Awaits

The good news is that the world, including its governments, international bodies, research organizations, large-scale enterprises, innovative startups, and, above all, individual consumers, are all aware of the devastating effects climate change may bring to this planet and its future.

The stakeholders also have ample knowledge of how atmospheric CO2 drives global heating, the primary cause behind climate change. This awareness has started delivering results with new and innovative solutions coming in each day. It will be a matter of time for the human race to make significant reversal of atmospheric carbon dioxide's impact and that of the heat it keeps trapped within. 

Click here to learn why geoengineering may hold the key to climate change.

Gaurav started trading cryptocurrencies in 2017 and has fallen in love with the crypto space ever since. His interest in everything crypto turned him into a writer specializing in cryptocurrencies and blockchain. Soon he found himself working with crypto companies and media outlets. He is also a big-time Batman fan.