It can often feel like we have lost the battle with climate change. In trying to get politicians and industrialists to take climate change seriously, environmentalists can state things in such a bleak way that it can seem like the fight is over before it’s even truly begun. But when you’re out walking next, take a look at the trees and have a little marvel at them because they are changing to cope with the amount of CO2 that we are pumping out daily in a way we didn’t expect. It can be added to the growing arsenal of methods of dealing with rising global temperatures, like the recently announced process which can capture CO2 on a large scale that we’ll also look at below.
The trees they are a changing
Trees ‘eat’ CO2, sucking it in through pores in their skin called stomata and using the carbon to build themselves. While they get nutrients and water from the soil (and sometimes from the air) their main food is self-made through photosynthesis. When they open these stomata to take in CO2 they lose water and use energy. With higher CO2 levels in the air, they have to open their stomata less, using water more efficiently and putting more energy into growth. The bigger they grow the more carbon they keep captured from the air and the more oxygen they pump out. But with rainfall patterns changing, many of the worlds forests don’t have access to the amount of water they used to.
In a world where irrigation for industrial farming, reservoirs for huge cities and deforestation all take large amounts of ground-water from the trees, the forests seem to be fighting back. They are giving us a tiny bit of extra space to work on getting our carbon emissions under control and to find a way to lower the amount of green-house gases already in the air.
So, what are we doing to get these gases under control?
Forty per cent of the CO2 we produce ends up in the oceans and that amount is increasing, leading to acidic oceans and eco-systems at huge risk. We need to sort that out before we reach a tipping point and now a team at the Lawrence Livermore Lab has come up with a seriously promising system. They were looking for one of the holy-grails of green fuel production, a carbon neutral system for making hydrogen fuel which up to now has used a lot of fossil fuels to produce. Instead they have managed to come up with a method that uses much less power, can run easily on sustainable energy and produces two things as waste: captured carbon and water. Hydrogen is reasonably easy to make but it has always used a lot of power to do so, making it pointless as a green fuel until now.
If they use sea water they can take out the hydrogen for powering everything from your toaster to a mission to Mars and then put the sea water back where it came from with no added pollutants. The huge added bonus is this: the excess carbon will be turned into carbonate and bi-carbonate. Both are substances that nature uses to capture carbon (for example limestone is mostly captured carbon in the form of carbonates) and once trapped it will stay there for a very long time. The water will also be alkaline which will de-acidify the oceans further. While that might sound risky, we are at the highest water CO2 levels in 300 million years and are in serious danger of mass extinctions, so anything we can do in the next twenty years will be vital.
As ever, it will take time for this new process to take hold but with energy becoming ever more important as a world issue, there is hope because producing this clean fuel is cheaper and cleaner, requires no mining or dams and the waste product is actually a major boon for the environment.