New studies on climate change have resulted in some dreadful predictions, which is why scientists want to act fast in reducing its effects as much as possible. Now a relatively simple project could reverse climate change if the concept outlined in a new paper becomes reality.
In a Stanford University-led paper, researchers outlined a project which could transform one greenhouse gas into another while generating a tidy profit. The study was published in the journal Nature Sustainability and describes a process for converting methane to carbon dioxide, which has less of an impact on global warming than methane. It raises questions such as why people would intentionally release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. However, the authors stress that swapping methane for carbon dioxide will be beneficial for efforts to reverse climate change.
“If perfected, this technology could return the atmosphere to pre-industrial concentrations of methane and other gases,” lead author Rob Jackson of Stanford said in a statement.
Researchers noted that some sources of methane from rice cultivation and cattle are more difficult to reduce, which is why they developed a way to offset emissions from such sources.
“An alternative is to offset these emissions via methane removal, so there is no net effect on warming the atmosphere,” study co-author Chris Field of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment said.
Last year 60% of the methane in the atmosphere was generated by humans, and it reached concentrations of over two and a half times more than pre-industrial levels. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is much greater, although methane is 84 times more potent when it comes to warming our planet in the first 20 years after it’s released.
Experts have difficulties capturing methane from the air because of its low concentration. The authors outline ideas to use zeolite, a crystalline material consisting of aluminum, silicon and oxygen, as a sort of sponge to absorb the methane.
Researchers imagine the project to look like a giant contraption equipped with electric fans which force air through chambers or reactors covered in powdered zeolites and other catalysts.
If the market price for carbon offsets goes to $500 per ton or more, as some assessment models predict, according to the study, the whole project would result in each ton of methane removed from the atmosphere being worth more than $12,000.
This is a challenging mission because reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere to pre-industrial levels may not seem possible in the near future. Nevertheless, a project like this could vastly contribute to that vision.