CO2 Mining

Posted by: David Schwedel on Friday, October 30, 2015


A lifelong friend of mine posted a picture on Facebook of the public street in front of his house.  It was buried in water.  All of it attributed to the exceptionally strong lunar tide, and lately, due to sea level rise.  This is a topic that is being taken more seriously by political leaders in Miami Beach, Florida. 

Sea level rise could potentially obliterate the value of all real estate in South Florida within thirty to fifty years according to some research reports.  This effect is not just happening in Miami Beach, but all along the East Coast of the United States.  Simply put, when water warms up, it occupies greater space.  This is known as thermal expansion.  The key to dealing with this “heat” lies in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as conserving energy wherever possible. 

I was asked to present at my children’s school on energy and climate change.  What strikes me is the fact that so many adults have absolutely no idea what causes climate change, how CO2 impacts it, and what can be done about it.  It’s one of those things in life that you cannot see, touch, or smell.  Out of sight, out of mind.  Considering my future inquisitive ten- to eleven-year-old audience enabled me to be more concise in my thought process. 

Statistically speaking, during the period of 1760 to the mid 1800s (Industrial Revolution), the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere was estimated to be at 270ppm (parts per million).  In 1960 that increased to 313ppm.  Today, CO2 levels are at 400ppm.  Current reports show that anything above 450ppm will create catastrophic events, and modeling shows we will hit that mark by 2034 if left unabated.  Nearly every climate scientist agrees that a level of 350ppm or less is required.

Remember that CO2 is traditionally absorbed in nature through plants and the ocean.  In the last 255 years, mankind has pumped so much CO2 into the atmosphere that our current “natural filters” are inadequate to manage the load.  Already we have all been witness to higher temperature oceans.  Soon we will experience more episodes of sea level rise, species extinction, polar ice melt, and the changes in storm severity and location. 

Fundamentally, CO2 consists of one element of carbon and two elements of oxygen.  Carbon is the key.  Oil, gas, and coal as fossil fuels are the carbons we use every day.  When we burn them, we put out CO2 in massive quantities each year, more than twenty-nine billion tons. 

We spend so much time focusing on alternative energies such as solar, wind, and storage at great expense.  Having much of my experience dealing in energy technology with an emphasis in the mining area, I wonder if we are making our investments in the right place.  Don’t get me wrong.  Renewables are a key part of our future, but we need to be realistic.  There are two drivers here that concern me: 1) Mother Nature, and 2) Fossil fuel investments. 

The simple problem with solar and wind, for example, is the fact that the sun is not always shining, and the wind is not always blowing.  In addition, battery technology is not at a place where billions of people on Earth can install a system to store and run all of their needs.  I believe we should focus more on the carbon. 

Technologies are in play now that may soon solve our issues around CO2 and actually reverse this crisis.  We read every day about companies seeking to mine around the polar caps, the bottom of the oceans, even asteroids in space.  I say let’s focus our investments on things like:

  • Atmospheric mining
  • Next gen sequestration
  • Stack capture and recycling
  • CTL
  • Artificial trees
  • CO2 fan and filtration

 I would argue that once an economic model has been landed on the ability to capture CO2 and strip out the carbon for sale to an offtaker, we may just solve our CO2 problem after all.  And wouldn’t that be something to see, the mining industry solving the problem of dealing with carbon and its subsequent reduction and redelivery?

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