‘Synthetic’ trees help capture carbon

I admire positive people. Go-getters, entrepreneurs, the pioneering, the inventive, those “get ’er done” type personalities.

I admire positive people. Go-getters, entrepreneurs, the pioneering, the inventive, those “get ’er done” type personalities.

It is easy to criticize and complain, especially if it takes no actual physical effort or intellectual energy on the part of the protestor.

The people that I admire most are the ones who don’t give up, they don’t capitulate to negative press or unsuccessful test results.

It is in interesting to note, but anytime I have viewed an organized protest on the nightly newscast against an oil project, it never mentions whether the protestors used hydrocarbon-based transportation or an alternative mode, like walking. I am pretty sure few, if any of them, sauntered to the protest site.

And I have yet to see an aircraft with a set of pedals in front of each passenger seat.

Don’t get me wrong, dissension is a great part of the democratic society — if no one speaks up, nothing changes.

My point is simple: instead of wasting effort on grousing and grumbling about oil’s side effects, let’s utilize that energy to lobby for new technologies and behaviours.

Let’s face it, oil will never disappear as long as we don’t want to walk to get anywhere, we like heat in our homes, we want things made of modern materials, and we have machinery to lubricate.

Oil is not a completely bad thing — it has moved civilization forward more in the last 100 years than in the last three million. It does, however, have some issues that we now know have to be addressed.

We also know, without a doubt, that hydrocarbons are going to be around for a long time, and we know that we are heavily dependent on the vast array of products made from hydrocarbon.

One approach addressing the side effects of oil use is the “synthetic trees” that have been developed for capturing carbon at Columbia University. These “trees” pull CO2 out of the air and collect it for storage.

Collaborating with other technologies, use of the CO2 in greenhouses and industrial processes could ultimately bring down the cost of carbon capture to an estimated $30 per ton.

At this price, carbon capture and storage will form a viable and practical technology for reducing greenhouse gases and eventually lowering atmospheric amounts to pre-oil industry levels.

Additionally, there is the possibility of converting the CO2 back into a fuel gas. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is coming into its own and innovators are developing novel technologies to use CCS to mitigate the undesirable side effects of hydrocarbon usage.

In Canada, carbon capture has been utilized since 2000 in Weyburn, Sask., and although it is the first and largest, it is by no means the only carbon capture and storage project.

Canada has sequestered 25 million tons to date and counting, with more projects scheduled to come on line in 2014 and 2015 in Swan Hills, Fort Saskatchewan, Central Alberta, Estevan, Sask., and Fort Nelson, B.C.

With human ingenuity, the future looks bright.

Lorne Oja is an energy consultant, power engineer and a partner in a company that installs solar panels, wind turbines and energy control products in Central Alberta. He built his first off-grid home in 2003. His column appears every second Friday in the Advocate. Contact him at: lorne@solartechnical.ca.

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