Global warming is at the heart of our concerns as citizens, as engineers, as business leaders and state representatives. This is why solutions must be found to respond to this problem.
Did you know that the 1st study on global warming started in 1830. It concerned the Arctic and the tropical oceans. A real awareness was confirmed in 1896 with the Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius, who demonstrated that the increase in CO2 due to the widespread combustion of coal in the atmosphere will lead to an increase in temperatures.
And here we are almost two centuries later, in an extremely critical situation. How did we get there ? How can we believe in government measures that aim to reduce our GHG emissions by increasingly destroying our environment?
The UN created in 1988 the IPCC (The Intergovernmental Panel on the Evolution of
Weather). This group is responsible for evaluating scientific work on climate change. It is a partnership between scientists and decision-makers, which makes it a credible source of information for the latter.
To date, 5 evaluation cycles have already been established and have highlighted the following conclusions:
- The influence of man on the climate system is clearly established;
- The more we disrupt our climate, the more we run the risk of serious, widespread and irreversible consequences;
- We have the means to limit climate change and build a more prosperous and sustainable future.
All initiatives aimed at limiting global warming to 1.5 ° C are welcome.
According to the IPCC : "Ideally, we should find a way to extract gigantic volumes of atmospheric CO2, that is to say between 100 and 1000 billion tons by 2100, which represents two to twenty times the current annual total. global greenhouse gas emissions . "
Beyond all the incentive programs to reduce GHG emissions, we are seeing the emergence of new technologies that would suggest that the past could be repaired. For decades, research has led us to believe in the miracle solution, but be careful not to be mistaken.
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Removing CO2 from the atmosphere is what scientists call “negative emissions”.
Concretely, it would be a question of reproducing what nature does best, carbon sinks.
- Climeworks is a Swiss company created in 2009 by Christoph Gebald and Jan Wurzbacher. They have developed a sort of giant vacuum cleaner that filters the ambient air and traps carbon dioxide. It is then mixed with water and injected deep into the subsoil. CO2 is naturally mineralized because it reacts with basalt and turns into rock, harmless calcite stone, in a few years. This method was developed in partnership with its partner Carbix. In 2020, the company takes on a higher dimension by building a new much larger facility in Iceland in partnership with On Power, a subsidiary of Reykjavik Energy, called “ Orca ”. This will allow the permanent and safe removal of 4,000 tonnes of atmospheric carbon dioxide per year. This climate-friendly installation is the largest in the world to date. The concern is that this technology is extremely expensive and requires large amounts of energy. Filters which recover CO2 must be burnt at 90 ° before being reused.
- Researchers from MIT ( Massachusetts Institute of Technology ) have put forward their results concerning a process which consists of retaining CO2 in large quantities with electrodes coated with a compound called polyanthraquinone charged with electricity. Its operation resembles that of a battery. Carbon dioxide is absorbed when an air flow passes between charged electrodes and is then released and recovered when the electrodes are discharged. This technique offers interesting prospects in terms of industrialization of its development because the system operates whatever the concentration of CO2 including 400 ppm. This is the current average level of carbon in the atmosphere. The advantage of this system is that it consumes much less energy than its counterparts.
- Carbon Engineeringis a Canadian company backed by Bill Gates who has developed a giant reactor capable of sucking polluted air to clean it. These giant vacuum cleaners can be transported and installed close to polluting sites. According to its leaders, the construction of a power plant could be able to absorb as much CO2 as 40 million trees. The captured CO2 could be stored underground in empty oil wells.
The downside is that this technology is very energy intensive as it is.
In addition, interesting leads show that these reactors could be used in aviation to ensure carbon neutral flights by creating a new kind of synthetic fuel from the captured CO2.
- Carbixis an American company created in 2020 that manufactures reactors that transform CO2 into raw material. They collect the CO2 released by industrial waste emissions and inject it into reactors capable of transforming it into carbonates through the carbonation process. This transformation provides a stable long-term storage solution for manufacturing industrial products such as cement, aggregate for the construction industry and dural concrete. New carbon use technologies are coming onto the market ...
Alongside these extremely expensive and energy-consuming methods, researchers have devised some of the most radical ones. The principle would be to vaporize particles of calcium carbonate in the stratosphere, whose high solar reflectivity coefficient could lower the temperature all over the world. This method of cooling the planet is better known as geoengineering or climate engineering.
The researchers found that by the time of the Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption in the Philippines in 1991, 20 million tonnes of sulfur dioxide had been injected into the stratosphere. This sulphate particle fog had cooled the planet by around 0.5 ° C for almost 18 months.
- The SCoPEx project: the Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research ( FICER ), created in 2007 by Bill Gates to boost climate research, and the Harvard solar geoengineering research program which is itself funded by a a number of foundations and other private donors have developed the project to spray non-toxic calcium carbonate (CaCO3) dust into the atmosphere. Initially, the launch of a balloon carrying scientific equipment will be done in the following months in order to examine the communication and operational systems of this balloon. A second step will follow during which 2 kg of this CaCO3 dust will be released and analyzed. The SCoPex project team believes that calcium carbonate dust could replenish the ozone layer by reacting with ozone-destroying molecules. However, they do not yet know whether the quantity sent will be sufficient or too large and whether the aerosol used will be suitable for the expected results. The aim of this operation will be to analyze the risks of such an experience.
In a similar vein, some American researchers have imagined the concept of cloud lightening. The idea is to increase the albedo (reflectivity) of a cloud to reflect more radiation from the Earth, thus producing a cooling effect. The method consists of inoculating the clouds with fine sprays of salt water, which promotes the formation of cloud micro-droplets. These fine droplets light up the clouds and remain in the sky as a “white cloud”. They thus disperse the incoming radiation and increase the longevity of the cloud. This method is better known as solar radiation management (SRM).
That said, we must not forget the significant risks in having recourse to solar geoengineering. Even though its ambition is to reduce the symptoms of climate change, indeed, many scientists agree that it risks causing much more serious climate fluctuations. They fear that declining sunshine could severely disadvantage parts of the world, including depriving crops of naturally available sunlight and changing rainfall regimes.
Other researchers are working on the manipulation of the oceans. The idea of some is to improve “natural sequestration” by “doping” the oceans with a process intended to alkanize them. Indeed, this carbon sink is saturated and begins to acidify a little too much, which is a real threat to marine life.
Some scientists think of sprinkling the oceans with an “anti-acid”, such as magnesium, sodium or carbonate, which would make it possible to improve the solubility of CO2 in seawater. While others think of pouring iron in water to fertilize the oceansby boosting the photosynthetic activity of phytoplankton. However, the latter remains too uncertain, at the risk of being even more threatening for marine ecosystems.
All these innovations show us that the concerns of global warming are debated in the highest decision-making circles and more still. The frightening power of certain technologies worries a large part of scientists who speak of uncertain solutions and unknown side effects. The concerns are very real, and experts say it would take about 1,000 years to naturally remove all the carbon we put into the atmosphere.
While these methods somewhat offset our GHG emissions, we must not neglect the importance of our behavior. The recurrence of fiery speeches from scientists, NGOs and deeply concerned citizens must make us understand that we must act today. Tomorrow, it will be too late !
Let's not wait for sorcerer's apprentices to continue to bring up solutions that would give us a clear conscience and slow down our actions to reduce our carbon footprint. What is clear is that not all of these methods will be effective enough to contain the urgency of the climate situation. And that they risk further worsening the state of our planet. They cannot therefore replace the eco-responsible actions of each of us.