Reverse Engineering of Global Warming and other Possibilities

From time to time, I have shared reports on new technologies which can de-accelerate global warming or even, with carbon removal and sequestration, reverse it.

My thesis is that technology, a product of capitalism, got us to where we are today and that technology, again, can get us to where we want to be.

The only questions are: who will invent the technology and who will take it to scale?  The history of the Industrial Revolution down to today is that the private sector (including now non-profits and researchers) and markets are better designed to invent and scale technology than are governments.

Here is an update on some developments supporting the cogency of my thesis:

Graduate students at Purdue University came up with an ultra-white paint which reflects up to 98.1% of sunlight, cooling down buildings painted with that paint.

Direct air capture uses chemical filters to trap CO2 out of the air.  The captured CO2 can be converted to fertilizer or fuel or pumped underground to be trapped in rock formations.  A Swiss company, Climeworks, now mixes captured CO2 with water and pumps it underground.

Another company, Biochar, uses a kiln to heat agricultural waste without oxygen to make biochar, which traps the CO2 in the waste to prevent it from re-entering the atmosphere.

A company in Somerville, Massachusetts, is making batteries to store electricity by using iron and air.  When iron and air combine, rust is created and energy is released.  Apply an electric current to rust, it changes back into iron and stores energy.  The company’s batteries are charged with an electric current.  Then, when air is pumped in, energy is released as the iron rusts.  This technology, the company says, stores electricity much more cheaply than current batteries.

American Airlines is buying credits from a new company that uses bricks of carbon-absorbing plant material.  The company collects sawdust and tree bark and compresses that biomass into bricks sealed to prevent the plant matter from decomposing and releasing CO2.  The bricks are then buried.  The plants use photosynthesis to remove carbon from the air, so this technology piggybacks on nature itself.

Trees remove from the air each year some 2 gigatons of CO2.

Though the private sector is at work bringing forth new technologies, government transfer payments from taxpayers to companies finance the costs of developing the new processes.

Since the Earth produces hydrogen a fuel – from iron-rich rocks and radioactive rocks – such hydrogen can be extracted from those rock formations.  Iron-rich rocks react with very hot water to produce iron oxide and hydrogen.  A Canadian firm, Hydroma, is searching for the gas.

Extractable hydrogen has been found in France, America, Brazil, Australia, Colombia and Oman.  The search for hydrogen has attracted millions of dollars in private investments.

Private sector ventures need capital.  There is a market for carbon credits – some reduce carbon and get rewarded by society (government) for doing so with credits that can be used by others, which generate greenhouse gas release.  The generators can buy the credit from the reducers.

The total value of assets in global carbon markets was roughly $950 billion last year, with Europe accounting for most of that value.

But who will be a willing buyer and seller of such credits to make a market open to buyers and sellers, facilitating the creation and use of such rights created by government?

In the U.S., to facilitate growth in the trading of carbon credits, State Street Bank is now providing back-office services to clients who want to invest in carbon credits, expanding the market for such securities.  State Street is providing its usual custody and fund administration, including handling and valuing assets, gathering prices and maintaining investment records.

Markets need confidence and trust, which come with reliable custody of assets and transparency of pricing arrangements.

Concrete is the second most consumed substance in the world after water.  Around 3 tons per person are poured each year.  The production of 5 billion tons of concrete produces 8% of man-made CO2 per year.  The Materials Processing Institute has claimed to have made the first zero-emissions cement in northern England.

The key ingredient of cement is limestone – composed of oxygen and carbon.  A chemical reaction drives the carbon from the limestone, producing lime and CO2.  Roughly, one ton of carbon is produced when making one ton of cement.

A professor at the University of Cambridge proposes to recycle old cement into new cement and side-step use of lime.

In Germany a steel firm is using wind-generated electricity to run electrolyzers that split hydrogen from oxygen.  The hydrogen can then replace coke with its carbon in reducing iron ore into iron.

In Woburn, Massachusetts, a company, Boston Metal, proposes to use electrolysis to separate iron from its ore compound, avoiding any use of carbon to produce iron from iron ore.  This approach produces oxygen as the byproduct of the chemical reaction.  Iron ore is dissolved in a molten mixture of metal oxides.  Passing an electric current through the molten mass heats it and splits the iron oxide into its component molecules.  The liquid iron produced is chemically pure and homogeneous.  The impurities from the ore are left in the molten electrolyte.

There are also other new technologies that would give better protection to our environment.
A biochemist has suggested feeding insects on the waste – discarded barley and yeast – of beer breweries.  Such insects could become feed stock for beef cattle.

Sway, a small company near San Francisco, extracts cellulose from seaweed and turns it into a plastic-like substance, which can be used in plastic manufacturing equipment and then biodegrades when disposed of.

Solugen makes chemicals from boring ingredients, such as corn syrup, to replace ingredients that disrupt the environment or the climate.  The company’s founders used AI to design new biomolecules.  They invented a “biofuge” – a 60-foot-tall tank that keeps harmless ingredients, like sugars, trigger them with biochemical reactions and aerates them with a dense stream of microbubbles.

The machine creates a biomolecular alternative to phosphates, which reduce corrosion in water systems, but cause life-killing algae blooms.

The bioforges produce enormous volumes of chemicals at a profit, using renewable energy and removes more carbon from the atmosphere than they emit.

Solugen wants to produce enough bioplastic to remove from commerce 5 billion non-degradable plastic bottles.  Though a private business, the owners want government to use its regulatory power to create incentives for customers to demand their new products.

Finally, a company in Norway wants to put 8 million young Atlantic salmon in tanks.  Fish farming is the fastest growing method of food production, now accounting for 17% of the world’s protein intake.  The World Bank estimates that 90% of the world’s fisheries are fished either at or over their capacity to regenerate.

But aquaculture in net pens creates serious pollution of surrounding waters.  And rearing lots of fish in close proximity to one another risks outbreaks of diseases and parasites.  That demands that the fish farmers use antibiotics and other drugs.

In tanks, a new technology continuously cleans and recycles water for the tanks.  Water cleaning machines dispose of the waste produced by fish living in the tanks.  This technology was largely borrowed from the sewage treatment industry.

Standard salmon farming requires about 50,000 liters of water per kilogram of salmon, when the new technology might need only 150.

Tank farming also has the advantage of being close to consumers in urban areas.  But the capital costs of using more technology are high.

Human ingenuity – for good and for evil – must not be underestimated.  But eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.