The problems of rising carbon in the atmosphere, along with the changing climate is one of the biggest in the 21st century. These problems are so large scale, so beyond human control that many people have just made peace with the fact that the world as we know it will soon end (or worse, live in denial). When the problem is so huge? How can a few people make a difference?
Turns out, they can.
Reusing carbon dioxide from industrial exhaust
In the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, a chemical plant run by Ramachandran Gopalan has come up with an ingenious way to reduce carbon emissions from nearby coal plants. What are they doing? Simply rerouting the carbon dioxide from the plant to their chemical plant for synthesizing soda ash and other chemicals.
This story was covered by a BBC documentary, where Gopalan says, “I am a businessman. I never thought about saving the planet. I needed a reliable stream of CO2, and this was the best way of getting it.” This technology was invented by two chemists from the same state. While they agree that this technology is unlikely to stop the alarming rate of climate change, it will certainly help in sequestrating 10-15% of of carbon emissions from coal plants.
Ingenious, isn’t it?
Scaling it big: Tackling rising global temperatures
On the other side of the world, a company called Intellectual Ventures sits in a suburb in Seattle. What is this company? It is an invention company. It’s filled with a bunch of scientists who are tasked with the job of solving some of the most gripping problems in the world, from controlling the spread of malaria, to–you got that right–climate change.
I read about them in Superfreakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. Their solution to controlling rising global temperatures is inspired from a volcanic eruption on Mt. Pinatubo in Philippines. Volcanic eruptions, among other things, include massive amounts of sulphur dioxide. When the eruption is truly big, the gas is ejected high into the stratosphere. Here, the gas spread with the help of air currents and can envelope the entire world in a few days.
What’s special about this gas? It acts pretty much like an anti-greenhouse gas. While greenhouse gases absorb heat, sulphur dioxide reflects it. The result? Cooling.
When the volcano erupted in 1991, this is what happened. And what resulted was a much cooler temperature throughout the world for the next two years. The team of scientists working on this problem wanted to figure out a way in which they can artificially replicate this phenomenon. You see, sulphur dioxide is emitted by many of our industries today; the problem is, they do not attain the necessary height for it to function as the “anti-greenhouse gas”. Is it possible if we could direct the industrial emissions high enough to create a “human volcanic effect”?
These scientists think so.
Currently, they are planning to utilize–quite simply–a very long hose. The sulphur dioxide is collected (from whatever source) and liquefied. Then, it is simply pumped up into the stratosphere!
How much gas is needed? They figure 34 gallons per minute. The hose will be held up by helium filled balloons at equal intervals throughout. Along with each balloon, a pump is attached to help move the liquid up into the atmosphere. At the end of the hose, a few nozzles–much like the ones used in your gardens–would spray the gas in the stratosphere.
Sure, the costs and the logistics are quite significant. But if it means climate stabilization, isn’t it worth it?
Big problems, truly, seem to have really simple solutions.
- Superfreakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.