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ENVIRONMENT/ To reduce CO2 some look to artificial forests

Much current environmental research is focused on reducing the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by capturing and storing it. New results presented here

(Infophoto) (Infophoto)

Reducing the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is becoming a mandatory goal in all parts of the planet. The challenge is to tackle climate change and, in any case, to help improve the environmental conditions of the places in which we live and work.

Strictly speaking, there are two ways to reduce CO2: emitting less into the atmosphere and capturing what is already there and storing it in remote locations. The second strategy has long aroused strong hopes and technologists have set to work to devise workable and effective solutions. There are many different methods that have been explored so far for the extraction of CO2 from stationary sources such as coal power plants or industrial structures such as steel mills and cement plants. There are methods that involve the storage of CO2 in the earth or its reuse for other purposes, such as feeding algae “farms” for the production of biofuels. However, these systems will not solve the problem of removing carbon dioxide from moving sources such as automobiles, trucks and airplanes, and between a third and half of the total CO2 emissions come from those sources.

Therefore, there are those who emphasize the importance of moving to other, more “direct” methods. Promising results of research in this direction have been reported recently in Science by a team of researchers at Columbia University's Earth Institute, led by Klaus Lackner, director of the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy at the same U.S. university.

The cost involved in directly removing CO2 from the air is very high, but the new materials and techniques described by Lackner and his colleagues could soon be developed in a fairly economic way and quickly spread around with benefits for all. The techniques are directed towards seizing the sources of CO2 that other methods of CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) cannot reach easily, and they predict appreciable reductions in the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Lackner's research indicates several possibilities. When CO2 passes through the systems of production, it can be absorbed by liquids or surface layers and then separated, but the normal air is less concentrated than that coming out of a factory or a power plant. Thus, they are trying to find ways of capturing the maximum amount possible in the open air but with the least possible expenditure of energy.