Above is a beaker of liquid carbon flowing out of a beaker hundreds of feet below the ocean surfase. This is carbon sequestration and it might just be the tech we need to avert global climate change. Such technology is already in use, where liquid carbon is injected into old oilwells to squeeze out previously unreachable oil.
This year, the U.S. Department of Energy will spend $54 million to promote the endeavor, called carbon sequestration. Oil companies such as Chevron and BP Amoco, fearing future regulation on carbon emissions if global warming increases, are beginning to assist.
Researchers have proposed sending out a fleet of ships trailing 2-mile-long pipes to pump chilled, pressurized carbon dioxide into the ocean, where it would slowly dissolve and sink to the bottom. Earth’s oceans hold 45 trillion tons of carbon, compared with 825 billion in the atmosphere and 2.4 trillion tied up in organic matter such as trees, soil, and your Aunt Martha. Earth’s entire untapped fossil fuel reserves contain another 10 trillion tons of carbon. In theory, the oceans could absorb all of that and more.
There really are only three other options. One is to let global warming run unchecked, which will most likely produce major costs of its own in property loss, hunger, disease, and environmental damage. A second way out is to find some other way to keep Earth cool. Manhattan Project alumnus Edward Teller, among others, has proposed blocking sunlight by launching a giant space umbrella or orbiting a fleet of tiny sun-blocking mirrors. Lawrence Livermore’s Caldeira ran a computer climate model and found that blocking just 1.8 percent of sunlight would reduce global temperatures even if the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubled. Nonetheless, he doesn’t think such schemes hold much promise because of their enormous complexity and unpredictability.
That still leaves a third approach: conservation and the development of nonpolluting fuels. It’s an effort Caldeira endorses regardless of the promise of carbon sequestration. “I think everybody agrees that the best thing would be if we could find a way to not produce carbon dioxide,” he says.