These giant fans can suck CO2 out of the atmosphere, and then use it as fuel!

Sep 22, 2015

Carbon Engineering

By Science Dump

Besides being incredibly beautiful and useful in many ways, trees also use CO2 during photosynthesis. With all the CO2 emissions in the air today, it would be good thinking to plant more trees, right? Well, yes, but it would take about a thousand times more land to plant enough trees to combat the ever growing CO2 emissions! It’s time for a new game plan, and Carbon Engineering has created one.


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21 comments on “These giant fans can suck CO2 out of the atmosphere, and then use it as fuel!

  • but it would take about a thousand times more land to plant enough trees to combat the ever growing CO2 emissions!

    How much more land would it take to plant 4 billion extra people on the planet between 2000 and sometime after 2050? We can’t see the forests for the people.

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    Hurry! Parcels are going fast!




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  • Good idea, now we can burn fossil fuels and rid the planet of those useless trees without a care in the world. Personally I think the best solution is to replace the trees that have been removed asap, particularly in tropical regions.



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  • Human industry creates approximately 30 trillion kg of carbon dioxide per year. This prototype can cancel 36500 of these 30 trillion. We will need about 800 million of these. Funnily enough, that’s roughly the number of cars on Earth. So let no-one say civilisation can’t afford this approach. (I’m not advocating this method specifically; it may not even be the best one. However, it’s pretty good, if it really works as claimed.) If our use of carbon-based fuels switched entirely to the hydrocarbons created by this method, we wouldn’t be creating emissions from Earth’s existing fossil fuels. That would be great for the environment’s net carbon dioxide levels. However, the fossil fuel industry wouldn’t like it. But given that they’ve already found several times more than enough fuel to cause what has been called a “game over” climate change outcome, I don’t think protecting their future profits should be important to us.



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  • Jos Gibbons
    Sep 23, 2015 at 3:50 am

    @link – The air-capture technology functions In a similar manner to how trees use CO2, yet the Carbon Engineering’s plant will not need as much (fertile) land, it could be built in deserts or other inhospitable terrains. Leaving fertile land free for agriculture.

    Human industry creates approximately 30 trillion kg of carbon dioxide per year. This prototype can cancel 36500 of these 30 trillion. We will need about 800 million of these.

    In addition to the CO2 collection and processing plants, they would need energy sources taking up considerable areas of land and power resources. (solar, wind, nuclear, – which they list)
    While this may provide a portable fuel source for transport, and could be combined with hydrogen technology to provide combustible (hydro)carbon fuel, the energy losses in the industrial processes, and in the combustion engines are considerable, so may be uncompetitive with direct use of electric motors powered by induction systems, super-conductors, or batteries.



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  • Thanks Alan, I was wondering about this. However there are some forms of transport that will be hard to power with batteries such as Jet Airliners. Perhaps this could be a method of providing carbon neutral fuel supply for these in the medium term?



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  • Reckless Monkey
    Sep 23, 2015 at 6:36 am

    Thanks Alan, I was wondering about this. However there are some forms of transport that will be hard to power with batteries such as Jet Airliners.

    One possible system of fuelling hyper-sonic aircraft, would be further development of the air-breathing/ liquid hydrogen – liquid oxygen, SABRE jet/rocket engine – if airport storage of liquid hydrogen could be arranged. (We can watch the Japanese hydrogen fuelled car experiment and its refuelling stations.)

    http://nextbigfuture.com/2015/06/reaction-engines-uk-will-have-new-tests.html
    The SABRE engine requires a novel design of the rocket engine’s thrust chamber and nozzle to allow operation in both air-breathing and rocket modes, as well as a smooth transition between the two.

    Combined with unique thermodynamic cycles, Reaction Engines’ technology enables a new class of aerospace engine called the Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (‘SABRE’). This breakthrough in aerospace propulsion can power aircraft from a runway start up to Mach 5.5 in the atmosphere (more than twice the speed of a conventional jet engine) and then subtly transition to a pure rocket mode which allows the engine to operate outside of the Earth’s atmosphere up to orbital velocity (Mach 25, 17,000mph, 7.5km / sec). The viability of the SABRE engine has been independently validated by the European Space Agency during a review which was undertaken at the request of the UK Space Agency.

    Perhaps this could be a method of providing carbon neutral fuel supply for these in the medium term?

    Perhaps this CO2 capture method of fuel production could also be used, if it is competitive with bio-fuel.



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  • What the hell are they talking about — using CO2 as fuel? You can make pop with it. You can spur plant growth with it. It is the end product of combustion, not a fuel.

    You could turn it back into hydrocarbons, but that would take more energy then you would get from burning them.



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  • There are a number of related fallacies behind these get-rid-of-carbon-quick schemes.

    1) Everything that human beings produce creates carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions throughout the production process, throughout the useful life of the product, and throughout the disposal process. (Roedy succinctly points this out above). A hybrid car, for example the magnificent Prius, gets 50 to 60 miles per gallon but still burns petrol.

    2) Human beings cannot see carbon dioxide, a normally harmless and naturally abundant gas in our atmosphere. Carbon dioxide only becomes defined as a “pollutant” when it crosses various thresholds of atmospheric concentration and causes gradual global warming. The gas is not toxic in itself so the epiphenomenon of gradual warming and climate change do not register among the higher priorities of public concern.

    3) Each new scheme adds a layer of cost to controlling what people do not perceive as an imminent threat. The accretion of costs passed on to taxpayers and consumers when each new technology comes on line piecemeal with marginal benefits is prohibitive. (Solar power, and to a lesser extent wind power, hold out exceptional promise if other conditions fall into place.) The ostensibly “clean’ technology also generates carbon dioxide for reasons described above that must be measured, monitored and factored into the cost-benefit analysis.

    4) The cost-benefit factor tends to fatally prohibit the implementation of the schemes on an economy of scale. Simply put, by way of example with license for hyperbole, everyone must purchase and drive a battery-powered car to eliminate tailpipe emissions. Selling several hundred thousand electric cars worldwide to affluent green-flattered toffs accomplishes nothing. Trying to get the vast majority of the world’s poor and middle class to scrape together $30,000 to $40,000 to buy an entry level model of these limp machines is a pipe dream.

    5) Finally, conservation should not be conflated with elimination. Every person added to world population will account for significant carbon dioxide emissions however more or less. Emissions can be reduced in myriad ways but never eliminated. The per capita factor will always play a universal role. Projecting piecemeal emission “cuts” by this or that percent by this or that year will always leave in place per capita CO2 emissions to some degree. Population growth will tend to wipe out most conservation “progress” based on simple arithmetic for the rest of the century unless we can decouple population growth from the intractable reality by actually implementing carbon neutral energy sources in every sector of the economy on a universal scale. How much wiser to stabilize then reduce world population with reasonable limitations on fertility rather than trying to build an infinite number of wind turbine farms (or their hair-brained equivalent) to meet the infinite needs of an infinitely growing human population.



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  • Melvin
    Sep 23, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    Carbon dioxide only becomes defined as a “pollutant” when it crosses various thresholds of atmospheric concentration and causes gradual global warming. The gas is not toxic in itself so the epiphenomenon of gradual warming and climate change do not register among the higher priorities of public concern.

    I can assure you, as can submarine crews, that CO2 beyond VERY low concentrations is “toxic to humans in itself”!

    http://www.nap.edu/read/11170/chapter/5#48
    The information below was taken largely from a more comprehensive review, Spacecraft Maximum Allowable Concentrations for Selected Airborne Contaminants, Volume 2 (NRC 1996). The studies discussed represent those most relevant to submariners and the submarine environment.

    CO2 is a simple asphyxiant and lethal asphyxiations have been reported at concentrations as low as 110,000 ppm (Hamilton and Hardy 1974). Loss of consciousness can occur within a minute of exposure at 300,000 ppm and within 5-10 minutes (min) of exposure at 100,000 ppm (HSDB 2004). The effects of concentrations of CO2 between 7,000 and 300,000 ppm in humans and animals are discussed below and include tremor, headaches, chest pain, respiratory and cardiovascular effects, and visual and other central nervous system (CNS) effects.



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  • I appreciate the clarification, and not just a technical point, but I did try to provide a context for my observation: Human beings cannot see carbon dioxide, a normally harmless and naturally abundant gas in our atmosphere.

    Some years ago I visited a spacious biosphere sealed off from the atmosphere near Tucson, Arizona where a small group of subjects had tried to live in a self-sufficient environment simulating a space colony with plants to provide oxygen, food, etc. The experiment had to be called off when their exhaled carbon dioxide built up to toxic levels.

    I understand that an atmosphere of pure oxygen would also be deadly to humans…



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  • Melvin
    Sep 23, 2015 at 5:14 pm

    I understand that an atmosphere of pure oxygen would also be deadly to humans…

    The Apollo astronauts breathed an atmosphere of pure oxygen at 5psi but the crew of Apollo 1 and the whole capsule were incinerated when an electrical spark started a fire. They had to do a redesign removing inflammable materials and make electrical circuits spark free with fire-resistant insulation.



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  • I see these systems put forward all the time. Shade the planet. Carbon sequestration. Bacterial gasoline… All adhering to stone age technology. Burn something to get energy. This system is not needed. We just need to stop burning carbon. It is very, very simple. Nothing needed. Just stop burning carbon.



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  • Alan. You know much more about the topic than I do but I hope the findings from one experiment described below add something:

    Ronald Harper, a neurobiology professor at UCLA, conducted observations on a group of healthy teenagers breathing various gas mixes using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). His findings showed that in some subjects the pure O2 caused the brain to go clinically bonkers. Brain structures such as the hippocampus, the insula, and the cingulate cortex all displayed an adverse reaction; they in turn spurred the hypothalamus, the body’s main regulatory gland, into a fervor. The hypothalamus regulates a myriad of things, including heart rate, body temperature, and is the master of a variety of other glands. The introduction of pure oxygen prompts the hypothalamus to flood the body with a cocktail of hormones and neurotransmitters which serve to hamper heart rate, and further reduce the circulatory system’s effectiveness. But Harper also found that by adding a mere 5% CO2, all the detrimental effects found in pure oxygen are negated.

    By way of FYI, I will be leaving the RD comment section to pursue other projects. I appreciate that this stimulating and welcoming place is a community. I would like to thank all of you for teaching me so much. Best regards, Melvin.



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  • Melvin
    Sep 23, 2015 at 6:33 pm

    His findings showed that in some subjects the pure O2 caused the brain to go clinically bonkers. Brain structures such as the hippocampus, the insula, and the cingulate cortex all displayed an adverse reaction; they in turn spurred the hypothalamus, the body’s main regulatory gland, into a fervor

    I think in such cases the pressure at which the gas was inhaled and individual sensitivities would play a part.

    But Harper also found that by adding a mere 5% CO2, all the detrimental effects found in pure oxygen are negated.

    5% seems dangerously high, but humans do need a trace of CO2 to stimulate breathing and can encounter respiratory difficulties without it.

    By way of FYI, I will be leaving the RD comment section to pursue other projects. I appreciate that this stimulating and welcoming place is a community. I would like to thank all of you for teaching me so much. Best regards, Melvin.

    It is always encouraging in science to have debates with those who correct errors and learn from mistakes.

    Alan. You know much more about the topic than I

    It is how reliable knowledge is built up after testing and checking over the years.

    All the best with life-long learning – Look back in from time to time.



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  • Hi Roedy,

    Hydrocarbons are hydrogen and carbon atoms joined together to form a molecule with carbon and hydrogens attached, this method must be extracting carbon, releasing oxygen and leaving hydrocarbons behind. Latter this can be reacted with oxygen to split the molecule apart (releasing energy) combining the carbon with oxygen to make CO2. If the hydrocarbons you used were all derived from this method then the total amount in the atmosphere would be neutral (at least as far as a proportion of CO2 in the atmosphere). Trees of course do the same thing using sunlight. Trees are mainly made of carbon and hydrocarbons (sugars are carbohydrates) so when energy cereals say their carb loaded like one popular one here in Australia what they really mean is they are loaded with sugar. So hydrocarbons have chemical potential energy. Therefore are a fuel.



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  • I see that the UK’s biggest coal burning power station has decided abandon carbon capture, now that Carbonaceous Cameron’s muppets have cut back subsidies and tax breaks for green investments!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-34356117
    Energy company Drax has abandoned a £1bn project to introduce carbon capture technology to cut emissions.

    Drax is part of a scheme to store carbon dioxide next to its plant in North Yorkshire, which is the biggest coal-fired power station in the UK

    It is halting further investment because of the government’s decision to reduce subsidies for renewable energy.

    The company said that due to lack of profits it had to put the business and shareholders first.

    Speaking to the BBC, she said: “The most recent effect has been the government has removed a tax exemption for renewable power that is sold to industrial companies and we’re the largest generator of renewable power in the UK and this has suddenly removed a stream of income.”

    The government has reduced support for the use of wood pellets, a renewable biomass fuel, that the company now burns at its plant in North Yorkshire.

    Over the summer it also cut renewable energy subsidies, saying it was keen to reduce fuel costs for consumers who paid for them through their bills.

    The chair of the Energy and Climate Change Committee, Angus MacNeil, said the government must take some responsibility for Drax’s decision.

    “They certainly didn’t consider what they were doing and they’ve left Drax in a very invidious position at the moment. Drax itself would have been actually carbon negative, in that they were burning biomass and then were going to be storing that capture, so they would have been taking carbon out of the atmosphere.”

    (On that part of the plant!)

    “So what Drax were doing was very exciting. And this is a very unfortunate situation. But in many ways it’s actually when you think about it not surprising, due to the wrecking ball approach the UK government have taken.” he added.



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  • 20
    laurence says:

    this is another snake oil scheme. To reduce atmospheric CO2 to catbon requires more energy than was released in the original combustion. (2nd law thermodynamics). Energy obtained from where? nuclear? more carbob burning?



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  • Damn!

    I’ve timed my return badly. I have watched some of your summaries whilst away and thought them excellent.

    I wish you well in your pursuits. Thanks from me for excellent debate.



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