Scrub CO2 From the Air, Win $25 Million -- But How?

February 16, 2007

It's Richard Branson's 25-million-U.S.-dollar question: Can someone develop an effective, economical way to reduce global warming by sucking greenhouse gases from the atmosphere?

Last week the British tycoon and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore announced the Virgin Earth Challenge. The program offers the biggest science prize in history to anyone who can come up with a commercially viable system for removing human-produced carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.

(Related news: "Global Warming 'Very Likely' Caused by Humans, World Climate Experts Say" [February 2, 2007].)

The deadline isn't until 2010, but CO2-reducing concepts have long been underway, including artificial trees with "leaves" that absorb the gas, solar-powered scrubbers, and carbon-sucking towers in Antarctica.

To win, the system should be able to scrub the equivalent of at least a billion tons of the greenhouse gas a year.

Carbon dioxide, which is produced from the combustion of fossil fuels, is the leading culprit being blamed for global warming.

"Most of the climate change that we'll see in the next 30 years will be the result of emissions of carbon dioxide that are already in the system," said Jim Walker, chief operating officer of the Climate Group.

The independent nonprofit is acting as an advisor to the judges of the Virgin Earth Challenge.

Solar Scrubbers

Researchers have been applying their minds to the CO2 problem since well before Branson's announcement.

Technologies have already been developed to successfully cut CO2 emissions from sources such as coal-fired power stations.

And methods have been found for underground storage of CO2 captured from burning coal and natural gas.

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