Air Carbon Capture carbon capture carbon-capture and sequestration CCS Climate Change co2 emissions Grand Canyon Houston Astrodome Technology USA

Air Carbon Capture’s Scale Problem: 1.1 Astrodomes For A Ton Of CO2

Air Carbon Capture's Scale Problem: 1.1 Astrodomes For A Ton Of CO2

March 14th, 2019 by Michael Barnard 

Air carbon capture continues to get written about as whether it is an fascinating know-how that may play a big position in decreasing international warming. Even CleanTechnica publishes regular articles on the topic. But most articles fail miserably to put the know-how in context. A new research or press launch comes out, and a bunch of web sites publish articles which make it sound as if international warming is virtually solved.

However the scale of the problem matters. A lot.

You would wish to filter 1.1 Houston Astrodomes of air to get a single ton of CO2 with 100% effective know-how

For probably the most half, carbon seize is a fig leaf funded by fossil gasoline money to permit them to continue to mine fossil fuels and promote them. In some instances, it’s funded by them to offer a supply of CO2 to pump into present tapped out oil wells in order that the sludge liquefies and could be pumped out and bought. And lots of researchers maintain plugging away because it’s an fascinating scientific challenge to them.

There are three problems with carbon capture and sequestration — capture, delivery and long-term disposal — and air carbon seize only offers poorly with the first of the three. While CO2 has been growing in the environment, we’re still only at 412 elements per million. That’s sufficient that it might be about 41 meters (130 ft) thick if it have been a single layer within the Earth’s environment, however the Earth’s environment is 100 kilometers or 60 miles deep. That’s greater than enough to heat the environment, nevertheless it signifies that there aren’t that many molecules of CO2 present in any given quantity of air.

An earlier version of this text contained an misguided calculation of the mass of CO2 in a cubic meter of air. Fortunately, Geza Gyuk, Director of Astronomy on the Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum, Ph.D., Physics, University of Chicago, came to my rescue with a better methodology to realize the mass and a better end result.

The atomic weight of CO2 is about 44. The typical atomic weight of air is about 29 (N2 is about 28 and O2 is about 32 so this is sensible). The 410ppm current focus of CO2 within the air is per quantity or equivalently “per molecule”. So for every million air molecules 410 are CO2. So to convert to a mass fraction we merely need to scale 410 by 44/29 which provides 622 ppmm (elements per million mass) or zero.zero622%

The density of dry air is about 1.2 kg/m^three. So the CO2 element is 1.2kg/m^3 * 0.zero622% = 0.00075 kg/m^three = 0.75 grams/m^3.

The smallest unit of measure of CO2 for helpful discussions of carbon capture and sequestration is the metric ton. That’s a 1,000 kilograms or about 2,200 lbs. A kilogram is a 1,000 grams. Meaning to get a ton of CO2, we’d have to filter it out of about 1.three million cubic meters of air, if we have been 100% environment friendly at capturing CO2 molecules from the air (and a bunch of other nuances).

Let’s attempt some analogies. An Olympic-sized swimming pool accommodates about 2,500 cubic meters of water. So you’d have to pressure about 525 Olympic pools value of air to get a ton of CO2. The Houston Astrodome is about 1.2 million cubic meters, so you’d have to filter the air from about 1.1 Astrodomes to get a ton of CO2. You’d need about half a Great Pyramid of Giza. When you filtered all the air within the Grand Canyon, you’d get about 1,270 tons of CO2.

That’s why all air carbon capture units find yourself wanting like an enormous wall of fans.

The above is a visualization of a future air carbon capture system by Carbon Engineering, a Squamish, BC firm that does a reasonably good job of getting press for its know-how. A moderately absurd quantity of electricity is required to suck 1.three million cubic meters of air by way of this type of system. Think about a fan that would suck the air out of 1.1 Astrodomes.

Let’s take an industrial 48″ fan with a cubic ft per minute score of 17,500 to 19,500. That is very beneficiant because the sorbent creates vital back strain, but let’s be beneficiant. The fan draws 1,080 Watts for operation, however let’s spherical right down to 1 kW to be generous once more.

There are about 35 cubic ft in a cubic meter. Meaning the fan in query can move about 500-560 cubic meters per minutes. Let’s use 500 for comfort, nonetheless generous considering again strain from the sorbent. Whenever you buy numerous these fans directly, the worth is around US$500 per unit.

Pushing all the air in 1.1 Astrodomes via this industrial blower would take about 44 hours or simply over 18 days of steady operation. That’s 440 kWH of electrical energy required just for shifting the air to get a single ton of CO2.

To get a ton of CO2 out of 11 Astrodomes in an hour would take 44 followers drawing 0.44 MW of electrical energy (about as a lot as 30 houses). The fans would have a capital value of about US$23,000 and the electricity would value about $5.30 per ton of CO2 at common US electricity rates.

But that’s just the start line for the problem. That’s simply the price to move the air containing a ton of CO2. To truly push it via sorbents significantly lowers the rate of air movement. And sorbents don’t capture 100% of CO2 until you push the air via a big column of sorbents, decreasing the air stream additional. You’ll be able to move extra air for much less electricity, however you also capture less of the CO2. It’s more doubtless 10x the electrical energy simply to move the air via the system.

Most technologies use reside steam to separate the CO2 from the sorbent after it’s ‘full’. And stay steam is water that is first heated to 100 degrees Celsius and then by way of the state change which requires extra power to turn out to be steam. It takes much more power to create the steam than it does to maneuver the air. You might have a number of says to do that, however either you have got twice the sorbents which mechanically are faraway from the air movement otherwise you cease the air circulate to run steam via in the capture cycle. Extra electrical energy for all of that and more electricity for creating the steam.

Then you will have very giant quantity of fuel. A ton of CO2 takes up about 556 cubic meters uncompressed at one environment and room temperature. You then need to compress and funky the CO2 for any storage or distribution, which entails extra power. After which you must sequester it not directly, all methods which require more power.

And then we get to the subsequent drawback of scale.

There are about three,200 billion tons of extra CO2
within the air that we’ve added
since earlier than the Industrial Revolution

If we needed to get simply 10% of that out, we’d have to filter the air from 352 billion Houston Astrodomes or 2.5 billion Grand Canyons. That’s maybe a bit too many. What about just the CO2 we emit yearly?

About 40 billion tons of CO2 a yr
are added to the environment

If we needed to only cope with 10% of our annual improve in CO2, we’d have to filter the air out of 44 billion Houston Astrodomes or 32 million Grand Canyons.

And think of all of the electricity we’d want for the followers and heating the water.

But you’ll keep in mind that there are three problems in carbon capture and sequestration: capture, delivery, and long-term disposal. All the above is simply about getting it out of the air within the first place. All of these billions of tons of CO2 are absurdly beyond all of our potential makes use of of CO2 or the carbon in it for one million years. The global infrastructure to cope with it might be orders of magnitude bigger than all the international oil and fuel infrastructure that’s been built over the past 100 years. If we turned it into solids, we’d be burying mountain ranges of carbon, or creating new mountain ranges. Not that we now have anyplace on Earth where individuals wouldn’t probably object to having in all places they stay coated in new mountains. Ugly mountains too.

There are tiny niches where this know-how can do some good. International Thermostat, a agency began by the architect of the carbon market within the Kyoto Protocol, has a solution which makes use of waste industrial heat from crops which require CO2 as a feedstock. The plant might then generate at the least some of its own CO2 and the large power value of creating steam might come from waste warmth from the plant. Industrial-scale greenhouses with sensitive crops sometimes have a warmth drawback as a result of daylight comes in however the resultant warmth doesn’t depart easily, they usually also use CO2 in 1,000–2,000 ppm concentrations to hurry plant progress and that CO2 is generated from fossil fuels for probably the most half proper now, both coming compressed in canisters or generated on website. Massive cannabis greenhouses might bolt an air carbon capture system on, use a warmth pump to tug the excess warmth out to make the steam to get the CO2. Some new formulations of cement use CO2 as a feedstock to lock away more carbon permanently in bodily type.

However actually, the one machine remotely large enough to cope with the excess carbon we’ve put into the air is your complete environment and its carbon cycle. And that takes about 300 years to take away a internet carbon atom from the air permanently. We will velocity that up a bit with some soil carbon capture methods, but by a trivial amount.

The answer is to cease putting CO2 into the air

Cease burning fossil fuels. As quickly as attainable. And let the large machine that’s Mom Nature do the remaining. We’ve created an unlimited drawback over 250 years. We aren’t going to deal with it in 20.


Word: as all the time, anyone reading this who spots an error, let me know and I’ll repair it and thanks. 


Tags: Air Carbon Capture, carbon capture, carbon-capture and sequestration, CCS, Grand Canyon, Houston Astrodome, usa

Concerning the Writer

Michael Barnard is Chief Strategist with TFIE Technique Inc. He works with startups, present businesses and buyers to determine alternatives for vital bottom line progress and price takeout in our quickly reworking world. He is editor of The Future is Electrical, a Medium publication. He recurrently publishes analyses of low-carbon know-how and coverage in websites including Newsweek, Slate, Forbes, Huffington Submit, Quartz, CleanTechnica and RenewEconomy, and his work is often included in textbooks. Third-party articles on his analyses and interviews have been revealed in dozens of stories websites globally and have reached #1 on Reddit Science. A lot of his work originates on, where Mike has been a Prime Author annually since 2012. He is out there for consulting engagements, speaking engagements and Board positions.

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