Why Turning Methane Into Carbon Dioxide Could Help Us Fight Climate Change

Why Turning Methane Into Carbon Dioxide Could Help Us Fight Climate Change It’s not cows’ fault they fart, but the methane they produce is warming the planet. Robert Bye/Unsplash Pep Canadell, CSIRO and Rob Jackson, Stanford University

Discussions on how to address climate change have focused, very appropriately, on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, particularly those of carbon dioxide, the major contributor to climate change and a long-lived greenhouse gas. Reducing emissions should remain the paramount climate goal.

However, greenhouse gas emissions have been increasing now for two centuries. Damage to the atmosphere is already profound enough that reducing emissions alone won’t be enough to avoid effects like extreme weather and changing weather patterns.

In a paper published today in Nature Sustainability, we propose a new technique to clean the atmosphere of the second most powerful greenhouse gas people produce: methane. The technique could restore the concentration of methane to levels found before the Industrial Revolution, and in doing so, reduce global warming by one-sixth.

Our new technique sounds paradoxical at first: turning methane into carbon dioxide. It’s a concept at this stage, and won’t be cheap, but it would add to the tool kit needed to tackle climate change.

The methane menace

After carbon dioxide, methane is the second most important greenhouse gas leading to human-induced climate change. Methane packs a climate punch: it is 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in warming the planet over the first 20 years of its molecular life.

Methane emissions from human activities are now larger than all natural sources combined. Agriculture and energy production generate most of them, including emissions from cattle, rice paddies and oil and gas wells.

The result is methane concentrations in the atmosphere have increased by 150% from pre-industrial times, and continue to grow. Finding ways to reduce or remove methane will therefore have an outsize and fast-acting effect in the fight against climate change.

Why Turning Methane Into Carbon Dioxide Could Help Us Fight Climate Change Global Carbon Atlas

What we propose

The single biggest challenge for removing methane from the atmosphere is its low concentration, only about 2 parts per million. In contrast, carbon dioxide is now at 415 parts per million, roughly 200 times higher. Both gases are much more diluted in air than when found in the exhaust of a car or in a cow’s burp, and both would be better served by keeping them out of the atmosphere to start with.

Nonetheless, emissions continue. What if we could capture the methane after its release and convert it into something less damaging to climate?

That is why our paper proposes removing all methane in the atmosphere produced by human activities – by oxidising it to carbon dioxide. Such an approach has not been proposed before: previously, all removal techniques have only been applied to carbon dioxide.

This is the equivalent of turning 3.2 billion tonnes of methane into 8.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (equivalent to several months of global emissions). The surprising aspect to this trade is that it would reduce global warming by 15%, because methane is so much more warming than carbon dioxide.

Why Turning Methane Into Carbon Dioxide Could Help Us Fight Climate Change Proposed industrial array to oxidise methane to carbon dioxide. Jackson et al. 2019 Nature Sustainability

This reaction yields energy rather than requires it. It does require a catalyst, though, such as a metal, that converts methane from the air and turns it into carbon dioxide.

One fit-for-purpose family of catalysts are zeolites. They are crystalline materials that consist of aluminum, silicon and oxygen, with a very porous molecular structure that can act as a sponge to soak up methane.

They are well known to industrial researchers trying to oxidise methane to methanol, a valuable chemical feedstock.

We envision arrays of electric fans powered by renewable energy to force large volumes of air into chambers, where the catalyst is exposed to air. The catalyst is then heated in oxygen to form and release CO₂. Such arrays of fans could be placed anywhere where renewable energy – and enough space – is available.

We calculate that with removal costs per tonne of CO₂ rising quickly from US$50 to US$500 or more this century, consistent with mitigation scenarios that keep global warming below 2℃, this technique could be economically feasible and even profitable.

We won’t know for sure, though, until future research highlights the precise chemistry and industrial infrastructure needed.

Beyond the clean-up we propose here, methane removal and atmospheric restoration could be an extra tool in humanity’s belt as we aim for stringent climate targets, while providing new economic opportunities.

Future research and development will determine the technical and economic feasibility of methane removal. Even if successful, methane- and other carbon-removal technologies are no substitute for strong and rapid emissions reductions if we are to avoid the worst impacts of global warming.The Conversation

About The Author

Pep Canadell, Chief research scientist, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere; and Executive Director, Global Carbon Project, CSIRO and Rob Jackson, Chair, Department of Earth System Science, and Chair of the Global Carbon Project, globalcarbonproject.org, Stanford University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Related Books

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming

by Paul Hawken and Tom Steyer
9780143130444In the face of widespread fear and apathy, an international coalition of researchers, professionals, and scientists have come together to offer a set of realistic and bold solutions to climate change. One hundred techniques and practices are described here—some are well known; some you may have never heard of. They range from clean energy to educating girls in lower-income countries to land use practices that pull carbon out of the air. The solutions exist, are economically viable, and communities throughout the world are currently enacting them with skill and determination. Available On Amazon

Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy

by Hal Harvey, Robbie Orvis, Jeffrey Rissman
1610919564With the effects of climate change already upon us, the need to cut global greenhouse gas emissions is nothing less than urgent. It’s a daunting challenge, but the technologies and strategies to meet it exist today. A small set of energy policies, designed and implemented well, can put us on the path to a low carbon future. Energy systems are large and complex, so energy policy must be focused and cost-effective. One-size-fits-all approaches simply won’t get the job done. Policymakers need a clear, comprehensive resource that outlines the energy policies that will have the biggest impact on our climate future, and describes how to design these policies well. Available On Amazon

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate

by Naomi Klein
1451697392In This Changes Everything Naomi Klein argues that climate change isn’t just another issue to be neatly filed between taxes and health care. It’s an alarm that calls us to fix an economic system that is already failing us in many ways. Klein meticulously builds the case for how massively reducing our greenhouse emissions is our best chance to simultaneously reduce gaping inequalities, re-imagine our broken democracies, and rebuild our gutted local economies. She exposes the ideological desperation of the climate-change deniers, the messianic delusions of the would-be geoengineers, and the tragic defeatism of too many mainstream green initiatives. And she demonstrates precisely why the market has not—and cannot—fix the climate crisis but will instead make things worse, with ever more extreme and ecologically damaging extraction methods, accompanied by rampant disaster capitalism. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWnltlfrdehiiditjakomsfaptruesswsvthtrurvi

LATEST VIDEOS

Deep Sea Carbon Reservoirs Once Superheated The Earth – Could It Happen Again?
Deep Sea Carbon Reservoirs Once Superheated The Earth – Could It Happen Again?
by Lowell D. Stott
As concern grows over human-induced climate change, many scientists are looking back through Earth’s history to events…
Climate Change Alters What's Possible In Restoring Florida's Everglades
Climate Change Alters What's Possible In Restoring Florida's Everglades
by Gardner William Nuttle
The Everglades are a vast network of subtropical freshwater wetland and estuarine ecosystems that once spanned the…
The US Defense Department Is Worried About Climate Change – And Also A Huge Carbon Emitter
The US Defense Department Is Worried About Climate Change – And Also A Huge Carbon Emitter
by Neta C. Crawford
Scientists and security analysts have warned for more than a decade that global warming is a potential national…
Blue Ocean Event : Game Over?
by Just Have a Think
A Blue Ocean Event, or Ice-Free Arctic, is the source of almost fever pitch speculation in the climate science world.…
Climate Change - The Facts by Sir David Attenborough
by David Attenborough, BBC
After one of the hottest years on record, Sir David Attenborough looks at the science of climate change and potential…
Why it’s time to think about human extinction
by Kerwin Rae
After listening to this ep with Dr David Suzuki, you’ll never be the same again. The environmentalist, activist,…
Record Temperatures 20-25C Above Norm in far North
by Paul Beckwith
The Northwest Territories of Canada had March temperatures above 20C for the first time (hit 21.6C or 71F); breaking…
Why New CO₂ Capture Technology Is Not The Magic Bullet Against Climate Change
Why New CO₂ Capture Technology Is Not The Magic Bullet Against Climate Change
by Chris Hawes
According to a recent major UN report, if we are to limit temperature rise to 1.5 °C and prevent the most catastrophic…

LATEST ARTICLES

Limiting Warming To 1.5C Could Prevent Thousands Of Heat Deaths In US Cities
Limiting Warming To 1.5C Could Prevent Thousands Of Heat Deaths In US Cities
by Thomas Harrisson
Holding global temperature rise to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, rather than 2C or 3C, could help prevent thousands…
Healthcare In World’s Largest Economies ‘accounts For 4%’ Of Global Emissions
Healthcare In World’s Largest Economies ‘accounts For 4%’ Of Global Emissions
by Josh Gabbatiss
CO2 emissions from healthcare in the world’s largest economies account for about 5% of their national carbon…
File 20180124 72597 1twk9y1.png?ixlib=rb 1.1
Biomining The Elements Of The Future
by Marcos Voutsinos, University of Melbourne
Biomining is the kind of technique promised by science fiction: a vast tank filled with microorganisms that leach metal…
What George Bush And The Neocons Can Teach Us About Fighting Climate Change
What George Bush And The Neocons Can Teach Us About Fighting Climate Change
by Ash Murphy
Be under no illusion, the world is losing the fight against climate change. The amount of CO₂ in the atmosphere…
Deep Sea Carbon Reservoirs Once Superheated The Earth – Could It Happen Again?
Deep Sea Carbon Reservoirs Once Superheated The Earth – Could It Happen Again?
by Lowell D. Stott
As concern grows over human-induced climate change, many scientists are looking back through Earth’s history to events…
Britain Is In The Middle Of A Drought – So How Come There's Flooding?
Britain Is In The Middle Of A Drought – So How Come There's Flooding?
by Hannah Cloke
Parts of the UK had more than a month’s rain in one day on Monday June 10. More rain on the following Tuesday,…
How To Feed A Growing Population Healthy Food Without Ruining The Planet
How To Feed A Growing Population Healthy Food Without Ruining The Planet
by Alessandro R Demaio, et al
If we’re serious about feeding the world’s growing population healthy food, and not ruining the planet, we need to get…
How To Get A High-renewable Electric Grid
How To Get A Highly-Renewable Electric Grid
by Richard Perez and Karl R. Rabago
The famous inventor Edwin Land said, “It’s not that we need new ideas, but we need to stop having old ideas.” He seemed…