Curbing Emissions Won’t Be Enough – but ‘Synthetic Trees’ could help


Klaus Lackner is one of a growing number of people looking beyond the immediate issue of curbing emissions of CO2. He and others are looking into technology to capture CO2 from various locations, such as their source points (smoke-stacks) and, in Lackners case, right out of the air, anywhere. Well, anywhere you can build a 1,000 foot tall fake tree with a foot print as large as a football field…

The growing interest in carbon capture also reflects the fact that the climate we have at 380ppm of CO2 is dire enough that even the inevitable 450ppm—perhaps 40 years away—looks scarier than it once did. Hurricane Katrina happened at 380. Glaciers are melting and coral reefs are dying at 380. The 2003 heat wave in Europe, which killed an estimated 35,000 people, happened at 380. The seas are rising at 380. Arctic sea ice is vanishing at 380; according to an analysis in the journal Science last month, by 2040 the Arctic may have zero summer sea ice. However you feel about polar bears not having floating platforms from which to hunt seals, the vanishing ice will shift wind patterns in a way that intensifies midlatitude storms, increasing wintertime precipitation over Western and Southern Europe, but reduces rainfall in the American West. Since 1998 that region has been mired in a historic drought. According to a study led by Lamont-Doherty’s Richard Seager to be published in Science, the Dust Bowl drought of the 1930s “will become the new climatology of the American Southwest.”

Enter Lackner’s synthetic, carbon-sucking tree. It is only conceptual, but he calculates that an area of sodium hydroxide the size of a television screen (not a 103-inch plasma behemoth but the 20-inch diagonal that people found just fine once upon a time) would soak up an amount of carbon equivalent to what one American is responsible for emitting. Or, to use another comparison, one tree could absorb about as much as 15,000 cars emit.


want to learn more about these synthetic trees? Check out the links below:

Synthetic Trees Could Purify Air (BBC)

Soaking Up CO2 (Discover Magazine)

CO2 Recyling (American Energy Independence)

Giant carbon vacuums could cool Earth (CS Monitor)

Our more technical readers might also want to take a look at this whitepaper:

Climate Strategy with CO2 Capture from the Air (.pdf)

6 thoughts on “Curbing Emissions Won’t Be Enough – but ‘Synthetic Trees’ could help

  1. Would it not just be better to stop cutting down the rainforest and start planting more trees on a large scale. It is good that scientists are thinking of capture technologies but the energy involved in a scheme like this would be phenomenal.

  2. In how long? 15,000 cars emit in what??? 1 secong??? 1000000 years? people.. if you post information.. have a descency to at least wright the truth..

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