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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

A Deal of the Century to Produce Less Pollution

The construction of Climeworks direct-air capture plant, Orca on the geothermal park in Hellisheidi in Iceland. The plant is expected to be in operation in late summer 2021. (Climeworks) (www.climeworks.com/orca)

Matt Power, Editor-In-Chief, Green Builder

If it costs $15 million to build a machine that removes the same carbon as getting a few hundred cars off the road, why not skip the middle man?

A new contraption called the Orca,” now under construction in Switzerland, will remove about 4,000 tons (about 2,240 U.S. lbs.) of CO2 from the atmosphere each year. Its an oil mans dream, a device that will allow us to keep burning fossil fuels as we kick the ball down the road until 2050, with the promise that big tech will save us. What could go wrong?

How much CO2 pollution is 4,000 tons? Not much. The Guardian reports (www.theguardian.com/carbon-to-rock-iceland) that: According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, that equates to the emissions from about 870 cars.”

Thats pretty meager air-cleaning bang for the buck. Dive in a bit deeper and you learn that this reverse Deathstar wont be fully operational for about 10 years. And its hardly a passive device. To pull the CO2 from the air, it uses fans to drive air through filters, then injects” the captured carbon dioxide 1,000 meters into the ground to mineralize” it. No figures are offered for how much energy all that will take, but it sounds substantial. And producing energy produces more CO2, unless its done with renewable technology.

What else will $15 million buy?

But lets ignore the obvious technical hurdles and focus on the value proposition for techno-topian fixes like this. To begin, lets think about other ways we might spend that $15 million to reduce CO2 emissions.

  • Provide free public transportation. Surveys find that many people dont use public transit because of the cost. In New York City, the average monthly commuting cost is $119.88 (www.thepointsguy.com/transport-costs-worldwide/). Thats $1,438.56 annually. Lets say we wanted to get an additional 870 drivers in the New York metro area out of their cars and into the metro. What if we gave them all free commuting passes? Wed pay $1.2 million per year. Result: 12 years of equivalent CO2 reduction (at $15 million), with no hidden energy production costs, and an economic boost to public transportation.
  • Insulate Existing Homes. Estimates from NAIMA (www.nsulationinstitute.org/NAIMA024.pdf) suggest that bringing residential building insulation in the U.S. up to a higher standard could rid us of 125 million tons per year of carbon dioxide emissions. What would $15 million buy? NAR estimates that the average cost to upgrade insulation in a home is $2400. Thats enough to bring 62,500 homes up to a much higher efficiency Estimates suggest current American homes produce about 6,400 lbs.of CO2 annually for heating and cooling. Insulation upgrades on those 62,500 homes would likely cut their annual HVAC-related emissions by 50%. Stay with me. Multiply 62,500 x 3,200 lbs. of CO2 (the amount of emissions cut annually), divide by 2,000 (for tons) and you arrive at 100,000 tons! Thats more than 100 times the CO2 reduction of the $15 million machine.
  • Drive Electric. Is it too soon to trade in a gas car for an electric car? Maybe not. EVs are not perfect yet. Battery technology is still messy, and overly CO2-intensive, for example, but because EVs can transition seamlessly to renewable power sourcing, they have the potential to get greener” over time. I like this analysis (https://blog.ucsusa.org/rachael-nealer/gasoline-vs-electric-global-warming-emissions-953/) comparing the lifelong CO2 footprint of EVs with gasoline models: Based on where EVs are being sold in the United States today, the average EV driving on electricity produces global warming emissions equal to a gasoline vehicle with a 68 MPG fuel economy rating.” The author continues,In a grid composed of 80% renewable electricity, manufacturing a BEV will result in an over 25% reduction in emissions from manufacturing and an 84% reduction in emissions from driving

for an overall reduction of more than 60% (compared with a BEV manufactured and driven today).”

I could go on all day with examples like these, demonstrating why technological solutions to climate change are quite simply a waste of money at this stage of the climate crisis. We dont need new technology. We need a shift in focus, and a shift in big subsidies to industries and ideas that can make the biggest difference.

Sure, if this were 2050, and we were mostly off fossil fuels, CO2 extractors might provide a little climate stabilization, but until then, theyre a distraction–a dangerous example of what some people have called magical thinking.” We need to change the discussion every time someone comes up with a new gadget that promises to allow us to keep misbehaving –and keeps the fossil fuel people running the world.

Reprinted with permission from Green Builder® – Building a Better World (greenbuildermedia.com). Article source: www.greenbuildermedia.com/carbon-capture-deal-of-century.

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