Of all the crises that inventors and innovators have had to combat over the centuries, climate change may just be the most important. With temperatures and sea levels rising, attempts to find carbon-free or low carbon-producing energy sources is becoming more urgent with every passing year. That’s one reason we at Pivot have helped create portable solar panels as well as a portable battery that can be charged using solar power.
However, that’s not the only approach inventors are now taking when it comes to alleviating climate change. While that research is just as important as ever, according to several studies – including one by Nathan Myhrvold of Intellectual Ventures and Ken Caldeira of Stanford University – the damage we’ve already done to the planet will result in serious temperature increases over the next forty years.
However, any good inventor knows that hand-wringing does not solve the world’s problems. Instead of giving up the fight, many leaders in the scientific community are looking to what was, until recently, dismissed as a risky, irresponsible possibility: geoengineering.
That refers to attempts to actually alter the world’s climate through a massive, coordinated effort. In other words, we’re not just looking to decrease the carbon dioxide we put out into the world anymore. We’re also looking at capturing the carbon dioxide that’s already out there. So far, it’s all fairly hypothetical and scientists in general agree that we must make permanently decreasing our emissions a major priority. But at the same time, these ideas are now being seriously debated.
Here are just a few of the geoengineering projects that inventors and scientists have come up with recently.
Albedo modification and the StratoShield
Engineered by Myhrvold’s Intellectual Ventures firm, the StratoShield is designed to reflect solar radiation before it gets trapped in Earth’s atmosphere (called albedo modification). Reaching from the ground toward the sky, the shield would release aerolyzed particles of sulfur dioxide that could reach as high as 18 miles above the Earth.
The sulfur dioxide particles would reflect a small amount of solar radiation, sending it back into space before it can warm the planet.
Critics warn that it could cause majorly different effects in different parts of the world, making it a risky proposition. In addition, we’d have to continue albedo modification for a very long time – most likely centuries – once we embarked upon the method.
Carbon dioxide removal
This is a second type of geoengineering that scientists and inventors are debating. These methods essentially involve removing existing carbon dioxide from the air and storing it safely, or sequestering it – perhaps underground, perhaps in plants or animals.
Carbon sequestration is a natural process first and foremost. Trees and plants, for example, store carbon, capturing it during photosynthesis.
But there are also man-made ways of sequestering carbon. Power plants are one of the biggest producers of carbon dioxide, and some – like a coal plant in Saskatchewan, Canada – have put into place carbon capture technology that captures the carbon dioxide output and stores it deep underground.
Other ideas for artificial carbon sequestration involve injecting carbon dioxide into the deep ocean, where proponents theorize that it would remain due to the pressure of the water surrounding it.
Both these artificial methods are, as you’ve certainly surmised, extremely risky. No one knows, for one, whether or for how long they will actually work. In addition, there’s no way of knowing what other adverse effects they may have on the environment surrounding a sequestration site.
Plus, they have the nasty social and political side effect of making people think that burning fossil fuels can be sustainable, which the scientific community has heartily stated is untrue.
While it’s useful to explore these radical sorts of ideas now, before they’re needed, rather than waiting until doomsday, it’s important for those of us in the innovation and invention industries to work on creating technology that can help us all decrease our emissions.
Do you have a product idea that can help move us toward a cleaner, greener future? If you need help with mechanical design, electronic design, or any other of the services we provide, request a free consultation with one of Pivot’s engineers. You can also simply contact us for help making that idea a reality!