This carbon-dioxide recycling plant could do a job-share with trees

The picture above shows a system that Canadian startup Carbon Engineering hopes will one day reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The behemoth is designed to recycle carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, doing the job of trees in environments where plant life struggles to survive – and taking up 1,000 times less land in the process.

Acting as a kind of carbon dioxide recycling plant, the huge fan system will suck CO2 out of the air. The idea, according to Carbon Engineering, is to combine this with hydrogen to produce hydrocarbon fuel to power vehicles. When this recycled fuel has been burned off, it will be sucked up by the fans, restarting the cycle.

There are, however, some significant hurdles to overcome before such a system can be scaled up to the level at which it would have a significant impact on the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

The first is that the system demonstration plant will capture less than 500 tonnes of CO2 a year. While that sounds like a lot, it is equivalent only to the emissions of 33 “average” Canadians. That said, the system could be scaled up by a factor of 20,000, compensating for some 660,000 Canadians. That sounds a bit more like it, albeit still a drop in the ocean on a planet of seven billion people.carbon_recycling_diagram

A far greater hurdle is the cost involved. To process carbon dioxide, you first need to heat it to 400C. Doing so is hugely expensive. Essentially, the project requires billions of pounds of investment for something that may offer no financial return at all – at least, not initially.

Few would deny that reducing the CO2 in the atmosphere would be beneficial to the planet. Sadly, governments need more than green feelgoods to stump up the cash – which is why Carbon Engineering’s dream of recycling the CO2 into hydrocarbon fuel is a plus point for the initiative.

The problem is that the cost-effective fuel-production part of the equation needs heavy funding to prove it works; but without the guarantee of fuel, governments are unlikely to invest. This is why systems such as this – as well as the likes of Climeworks and Global Thermostat – are funded by private-sector investment for the time being.

If the systems can be financially supported by the private sector long enough for fuel creation to become a cost-effective reality, the hope is that the powers that be will be tempted to foot the bill, at which point we might see these fan setups popping up everywhere.

You can get the full explanation from Carbon Engineering in the video below.

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