A Plan­etwide Air Pu­ri­fier

Far-Out Plans for Tam­ing Our Weather

Popular Science - - FEATURES - MATT HONGOLTZ-HETLING

Here’s a lung-stuff­ing fact: Each year, fac­to­ries, au­to­mo­biles, and other belch­ers of car­bon diox­ide spit 36 bil­lion tons of the heat-trap­ping gas into our at­mos­phere. Cut­ting back on those green­house emis­sions is key to cool­ing the planet.

Un­for­tu­nately, we’re not cut­ting fast enough. That’s why com­pa­nies in the U.K., the U.S., and Switzer­land are build­ing plants that can soak up CO2 with di­rect air­cap­ture ma­chines. They work like this: Enor­mous fans blow air past a fil­ter in­fused with a CO2-bond­ing chem­i­cal, such as potas­sium hy­drox­ide. Once sat­u­rated, work­ers can heat the fil­ters to re­move the CO2, which we can use to feed plants, car­bon­ate bev­er­ages, and cre­ate use­ful min­er­als.

But you’d need a mas­sive scal­ing up to im­pact the cli­mate: 10 gi­gawatts of power (enough to fill your flux ca­pac­i­tor to get your DeLorean back to the fu­ture seven times) to run the mil­lions of DAC ma­chines nec­es­sary. Still, the Swiss and Cana­dian gov­ern­ments are in­vest­ing in the tech­nol­ogy. Noah De­ich, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the non­profit Cen­ter for Car­bon Re­moval, says, “I ex­pect to see a lot more R&D sup­port for di­rect air cap­ture in the com­ing years.”

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