The Crazy Plan to Capture and Store CO2 Under the Ocean


CO2 is created by every living thing on the planet, but also by burning fossil fuels, which is causing global warming… So, what if we just trapped it all under the ocean? That'd work, right? Howdy oxygenators, Trace here for DNews. Every breath you take, you'll be exhaling CO2. In fact, each exhale contains 100 times more CO2 than was inhaled, totalling about 2 lbs of CO2 per day, per person. Carbon Dioxide is odorless, colorless, highly toxic; and apparently tastes "pungent" and acidic. Because Earth is a relatively closed system, so carbon never leaves. It gets burned and then trapped and then breathed and reused all over the planet again and again. Most of us probably connect CO2 with breathing. While we only release pounds per day, industry releases tons, and if we don't capture it, the CO2 will continue to exacerbate the greenhouse effect.

In 2014 we were projected to release 37 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the air, which is more than the planet can absorb. This is getting serious. So, scientists are working on ways to filter and trap this ubiquitous gas. In the 1930s, researchers figured out if you bubble air through a solution of a derivative of ammonia called amine, the CO2 will be plucked out, "scrubbing" the air clean. We've since developed a bunch of other ways to capture it, but in 2014 MIT developed a super-efficient process using electrochemistry — electricity plus chemistry — it's awesome. The researchers used amines to pick up CO2, just like in the 1930s, but they added a modern twist. When you bubble polluted air through an amine solution those guys naturally want to cling to CO2. They love it. But then, electricity throws copper ions into the mix.

If you're an amine, copper ions are way more enticing than CO2, so they drop the toxic gas like a bad habit and pick up the copper. At that point the lonely CO2 floats out of the system! Yay! Afterward, the copper is pulled away from the amines who have to run through that process again and again. I sort of feel bad for the hard-workin' little guys, you know? But back to the CO2. So now that we've filtered it, then what? Well, because industry faces such strict penalties for releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, they've created Carbon Capture and Storage technologies. Essentially, most companies take the filtered CO2, cool it until the gas becomes a liquid, and then transport it somewhere for storage. There are two major ways to do this, one is straightforward, and one just seems crazy. The straightforward one is called geologic carbon sequestration. In the States, the US Geological Survey has identified 36 regions around the country where the CO2 could be injected into porous areas of rock between 3,000 and 15,000 feet underground (914-4600M).

And hopefully, there it will stay. The second CRAZY one, is similar, but it's oceanic carbon sequestration. In liquid form, CO2 is denser than water. So theoretically, if we just, pumped it under the ocean, the water above it would hold it down there like a weighted blanket. A 2013 study in Geophysical Research Letters looked at the viability of pumping liquid CO2 to the bottom of the ocean, and determined it would form a lake of liquid carbon dioxide. Yep. A lake. The high-pressure, cold world of the deep sea would hold it in stasis for perhaps 1,000 years. I know what you're thinking, and yes, both of the ideas have their dangers. For example in geologic sequestration the pressure of the rock above should keep the CO2 liquid and it should stay there. Should. But if the CO2 finds its way out of the rock… global disaster. In the undersea example, the implications are also dangerous. CO2 is toxic, remember, so it could drastically increase ocean acidity, and deep sea life might not survive. Plus, if it DID leak out… global catastrophe again. Look, there's no real, permanent solution to CO2 problems except maybe venting it into space somehow… or simply stopping the release of so much carbon.

Pollution doesn't just hurt the planet, it can also hurt YOU. Check out how in this video! And if you're down to listen to my weird voice, come subscribe to my podcast! On each episode we take 45 minutes to dig into a topic all the way to the brass tacks. Here's a taste Every time we talk about this stuff, I just want to never use fossil fuels again. What about you? Ever feel guilty about your carbon footprint? Tell me about it….