The Atmosphere has a Stomach Ache from Too Much Gas

The atmosphere has a stomach ache from too much gas.




The atmosphere has a stomach ache from too much gas. The excessive gas causes global warming, and it is known as Carbon dioxide or CO2.

Can the atmosphere get rid of the CO2 to slow down global warming? Here’s the simple problem. CO2 has been stored in the ground for centuries. When we mine the earth for our energy and burn it, we let the CO2 loose into the atmosphere. That causes global warming. Our problem is how to recapture it and put it back into the ground.  We can try to convert it with our trees and seawater to its original balance in the atmosphere. But there is too much. Some say that the earth will end up like Mars, a lifeless planet with an atmosphere made up of 95 percent CO2.

We can copy the action of trees and seawater.  To do this, engineers are involved in clever ways to help get rid of CO2.  It is called CO2 capture where we store it and return it to the earth where it can no longer be in the atmosphere.

The Paris accord on climate change set the goal of keeping the planet’s warming below two degrees Celsius increase. To do that CO2 has to be kept from the atmosphere so that the warming will slow down. Pumping it into seawater has drawbacks. One idea is to plant more trees. Trees naturally absorb CO2. Unfortunately, to be successful so much land would have to be planted to trees that the land available for food production would decrease.

So we are faced with the dilemma of cutting our production of CO2 or finding ways to trap it.  Either we slow down our energy dependent culture or we face the increasing cost of destruction of civilization by global warming storms. The increased costs of repairing living areas from the destruction of massive storms caused by out of control global warming must be offset. The standard cost benefit is obvious as we count the high costs of modern hurricanes. By increasing the investment in CO2 capture, we can benefit by slowing the destruction by global warming which offsets the cost of capture. As the increase in global warming comes in the future, CO2 capture and its cost will become even more necessary and justified.

One idea is improving concrete manufacturing.  About five percent of human caused CO2 emissions are caused by making concrete. In MIT Technology Review, the plan to reduce CO2 is explained. In energy plants, flue gases are used with salt water to make sludge of cement. It is the same process that makes seashells and ocean reefs in nature. This sludge or cement is used in the mix of concrete used in construction thus converting the CO2 into storage and out of the atmosphere.   We’ll drive on highway concrete made partly from CO2.



At Arizona State University, Klaus Lackner has come up with an ingenious solution to capture CO2 from the air so it can be locked away underground, back to where it was for eons before we released it. The technology follows what we already know about carbon scrubbers, equipment already used to remove CO2 from industrial smokestacks.  Lachner’s machine looks like a large container size box. Lackner is sure he can design much smaller devices, perhaps units that can be placed in a person’s backyard to scrub the air.

Here’s how it works. An absorbent plastic sheet called an ion exchange membrane, which is used in water purification, traps the CO2.  A liquid solution then rinses off the CO2 and electricity releases pure CO2 from that liquid.  The captured gas can then be used for various purposes or stored underground. It is kept from returning to the atmosphere. .

Lackner has another idea. Since trees are nature’s major collector of CO2 in the process of converting the gas, he is also developing artificial trees that work much better than natural trees.  Each tree, in using his inventions, will store more than a thousand times as much CO2 as a regular tree. Imagine having one of his futuristic and beautiful plastic and metal devices in your garden.

According to the World Bank each American is responsible for 17 tons of CO2 a year or 93 pounds a day of which a great deal is due to our automobile driving. Could we be moving towards a backyard where we keep our own CO2 machine or  towards carrying a private artificial tree in a knapsack on our back? We might then capture and store our personal collection of CO2,  perhaps giving it to national disposal plants?  I imagine we’d stagger a little walking down the street with as much as 93 pounds a day collected in our backpack.


 Washington Post  (

MIT Technology Review  (