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Senators Propose Prizes for Capturing CO2
  US

By Andrew C. Revkin

Thursday, November 12, 2009
Source: New York Times Dot Earth
 
Senators John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, and Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico, have joined in introducing a bill that would establish awards for researchers who develop technologies that can economically extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stash it away. In doing so, they are potentially upping the ante offered in 2007 by Richard Branson, the aviation and music magnate, for such an advance.
 
Various researchers studying the interface of climate and energy policy have said that such technology is well worth pursuing, particularly given that oil and other liquid fossil fuels are almost surely going to be burned — particularly in vehicles or other dispersed sources — for many years to come, according to many assessments. The only way to retrieve the carbon dioxide produced this way is from the air, not tailpipes or smokestacks.
 
Others certainly disagree. Nate Lewis, a Cal Tech professor focused on advancing solar technology, said this kind of option should be last in line. When I sent him the senators’ news release, this was his response:
 
It makes no sense to remove CO2 from air when energy/electricity is not essentially fully decarbonized first (i.e., > 90% and likely > 95%). Otherwise to generate the energy needed to capture the CO2 from the air, one produces more CO2 than is captured.
 
One way or the other, the huge scale, and cost, required to make a dent in the gigatons-per-year emissions of carbon dioxide this way ensures that any such approach is many years from being applied. (One question is why the bill is focused only on permanent storage of the captured gas; there are other proposals to harvest carbon dioxide and “reprocess” it, in a way, to create fuels.) And there are plenty of heat-trapping emissions to capture in the meantime, particularly methane and soot, as well as cheap opportunities to avoid emissions altogether through improved energy efficiency. But without also pursuing long-term options now, the thinking goes, the technical options may not be on hand once the low fruit is all picked.
 
The New York Times Dot Earth is a blog where Andrew Revkin reports on natural resources, the environment, climate change and sustainability.
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