Consider this: Carbon dioxide which is a greenhouse gas is used to create pressure as well as fill in the vacuum created during oil extraction.1 Carbon dioxide is used by most oil drilling rigs around the world.2 The annual market for this greenhouse gas from oil companies alone is in the range of 40 million tons per year. Whereas, if carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is to be reduced to pre-industrial era levels, than we need to remove 30 Billion tones of this substance.
Assuming that we do not add any more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, we would still have enough carbon dioxide reserves in the atmosphere to supply all the world’s oil wells for 900 years! The fact that oil wells will go dry long before that is beside the point. The point is, instead of making carbon dioxide in factors and supplying it to oil industries, if we could just suck it out of the air, it might possibly help us combat the effects of greenhouse gas on global warming.
Geophysicist Klaus Lackner and his students at the Columbia University have done just that. They have created a prototype artificial plant that can suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Currently the plant is far from perfect but early stages and trial suggest it works.3 Bulk users of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide include dry ice factories, greenhouse farms and algae ponds.
What is now also required is for the government to decree that users of carbon dioxide must buy carbon dioxide that is taken from the atmosphere or extracted from fossil fuels and not that which is created in special factories. If we do this, a whole new industry and thousands of jobs could be created that are also safer and more sustainable.
Eastern Germany has coal fired thermal electric power plants each of which belches out over 36,000 tons of carbon dioxide every day and is currently a major contributor to the greenhouse gas and greenhouse effect.4 Now Swedish utility Vatenfall has started a pilot plant that removes and captures the carbon dioxide from the coal.5 This captured greenhouse gas can be used at any location or process where carbon dioxide is required including filling up of depleted oil wells and gas fields. Currently the pilot plant is of a small capacity but once the technology is perfected, it could be a means to clean up our act at the source.
So while Geophysicist Klaus Lackner and his students at the Columbia University perfect the technology to suck up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the Swedish utility Vatenfall can perfect the technology of using coal without having to release greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. This could effectively ensure that carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere by Klaus Lackner and his students is not replaced by polluting industries.
While there does seem to be a promising market in greenhouse gases, there are still some concerns about using greenhouse gas to fill vacuums in the ground. Primary concern is that the greenhouse gas could leak through the ground and find its way back into the atmosphere6. The oil companies are however quite confident that there is no leakage. Norwegian gas company StatoilHydro for example, has been extracting carbon dioxide from natural gas and pumping it deep below the North Sea. It has been doing so for more than 10 years. Some of course will wonder on how much we can trust oil companies to tell us the truth. But if carbon dioxide can indeed be stored safely below the Earth and we perfect greenhouse gas extraction technologies, then this technology may well be the start of a radical new approach to the greenhouse gas issue.
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1. Carbon Dioxide the greenhouse gas: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_dioxide_in_Earth’s_atmosphere
2. Use of Carbon Dioxide in enhancing oil recovery: http://www.theoildrum.com/story/2006/2/12/205144/452
3. Carbon Dioxide Capture from air: http://www.physorg.com/news96732819.html
4. Coal fired power plants: http://www.eoearth.org/article/Fossil_fuel_power_plant
5. Carbon-neutral electricity: http://news.cnet.com/8301-11128_3-10191202-54.html
6. Carbon storage concerns: http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/carbon-capture4.htm