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Menopausal Mother Nature

News about Climate Change and our Planet


Scientists Suggest Turning Methane Into Carbon Dioxide Could Reduce Global Warming – Forbes

A group of climate researchers from Stanford University have proposed that an effort to turn one of the worst greenhouse gases, methane, into carbon dioxide – not the worst greenhouse, but much more abundant – could still work out positive for the planet.

It’s a lessor of two evils approach to repairing the planet.

Methane is approximately 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over the first two decades after it’s released into the atmosphere. In a paper published in the journal Nature Sustainability they reason that turning all that methane into CO2 would still put humanity ahead and estimate that the transformation would eliminate about one-sixth of the cumulative drivers of global warming.

Methane molecules


Only last week, we reported on an initiative to extract carbon dioxide from water and turn that into methanol fuel using giant, floating solar farms to power the chemical reaction.

However, nations the world over are well behind on their pledges to invest in clean-energy innovation. The International Energy Agency said that only seven of some 45 energy technologies and sectors it assesses are on track to reach the goals of the Paris climate agreement.

Perhaps then it’s time to start thinking about damage limitation, rather than trying to prevent it altogether, since that seems to be a more realistic outcome.

Some greenhouse gasses are significantly worse than others, in terms of how much heat they trap in the atmosphere. If it was possible to turn the worst greenhouse gasses into less-damaging ones then, theoretically we end up with a net positive.

“To make a dent in the global CO2 budget, we need to remove billions of tons of CO2 every year, likely between 5-10 billion tons per year [out of ~40 emitted currently]. This effort is like running the coal industry in reverse,” Dr Rob Jackson, lead author of the new paper and Professor of Earth System Science at Stanford University, told Forbes.

A concept depicting how an array, coupled with the right catalyst, could potentially remove methane from the air

Nature Sustainability

“Efforts like the giant solar farm have advantages over what we’re proposing because they produce a potentially valuable product. I don’t know how feasible any of this is, though, including using solar arrays to produce h2 and transporting it to land to produce products.”

“Methane removal would be difficult too, but, it has some advantages compared to CO2. You could reset the atmosphere for 3 billion tons total of CH4 converted – while generating only a few months of CO2 emissions.”

Doing so would remove between one sixth and one fourth of cumulative forcing. Moreover, I can’t see us ever getting to zero methane emissions without negative emissions. We’ll never eliminate all emissions from agriculture and industry, even if we stopped eating meat, for instance. Will we stop eating rice, too? We need something else to counter-balance the most intractable emissions. Finally, in my proposal, we’re dealing with a thermodynamically favorable reaction, and converting CH4 to CO2 can be done in gas phase, eliminate liquids and most waste, and obviating the need for ‘capture,’ which is expensive.”

“I’m not saying this would be easy. Methane is 2 parts per million in the atmosphere, hundreds of times less abundant than CO2. And it would be expensive to do. Still, aspects of it are easier than for CO2 and no ones talking about it.”

“All of these approaches are a distraction compared to actual emission reductions. As chair of the Global Carbon Project, I’m well versed in rising emissions and the need for drastic cuts. We say that repeatedly in the paper.”

The current issue of the Nature Sustainability journal


Dr Paul Balcombe of Imperial College London’s Department of Chemical Engineering, who was not involved in writing the paper, told Forbes, “Methane is a relatively short-lived climate pollutant. So unlike CO2, methane will come out of the atmosphere fairly quickly – it has a lifespan of roughly 12 years – whereas CO2 effectively persists in the atmosphere.”

“This means that if we reduce our methane emissions, then the concentration in the atmosphere will reduce quite quickly. Unlike CO2 where if we reduce our emissions the atmospheric concentration persists. So, whilst there is great value in CO2 removal, perhaps our efforts are better spent reducing methane emissions first and then we wouldn’t have to worry about scrubbing the atmosphere

“The fact that average methane concentrations are very low [1.7 ppm] makes me suspicious that this would be extremely costly. It is much harder to ‘catch’ the higher concentrations of gases and CO2 is at less than 400 ppm. Even this is very costly, so I’d guess methane capture would be much more. So, interesting idea but I imagine it would be more cost effective to target methane emission reductions first which would have the same effect probably at lower cost.”


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