Let's say, hypothetically, that CO2 could be pulled back out of our atmosphere, literally sucked from the air and converted back to a solid. Sound good? What? Sorry, I can't hear you, let me go turn down the air conditioner.
A materials scientist at Michigan Technological University has discovered a chemical reaction that not only eats up the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, it also creates something useful. And, by the way, it releases energy.The key component is apparently lithium, the same lithium that stabilizes moods and powers batteries. Apparently lithium can be used to react with CO2, with the end result being solid carbon and usable nitrogen. What about the energy?
The "energy release" in question is heat. As in, you heat up lithium, it sucks a bunch of CO2 out of the air, and next thing you know it's approximately the same temperature as lava exiting a volcano.
Why isn't this getting more attention?
More specific geekery below the orange atom.
I'm not a scientist, so I did a little research to try and determine the implications of this turn of events. How doable is it?
The reaction takes place at 626 degrees Fahrenheit (330C), so about like a very hot pizza oven:
For example, orange-to-yellow colors are emitted when rocks (or melt) are hotter than about 900 degrees Celsius (1,650 degrees Fahrenheit). Dark-to-bright cherry red is characteristic as material cools to 630 degrees Celsius (1,165 degrees Fahrenheit). Faint red glow persists down to about 480 degrees Celsius (895 degrees Fahrenheit). For comparison, a pizza oven is operated at temperatures ranging from 260 to 315 degrees Celsius (500 to 600 degrees Fahrenheit).-- USGS/HVO Volcano Watch, November 14, 1997
So, pizza oven. Check.
OK, so what about lithium? Do we have enough of it to fix the mess we're in? According to the wiki:
Although lithium is widely distributed on Earth, it does not naturally occur in elemental form due to its high reactivity. The total lithium content of seawater is very large and is estimated as 230 billion tonnes, where the element exists at a relatively constant concentration of 0.14 to 0.25 parts per million (ppm), or 25 micromolar; higher concentrations approaching 7 ppm are found near hydrothermal vents.Also from the wiki:
Lithium mine production (2011) and reserves in tonnesSo in other words, yes, there is lots of lithium to be had. It can be extracted from seawater or mined. It's not clear exactly how much CO2 is in the atmosphere, or how much lithium would be required to make a real difference.
Country Production Reserves
Argentina 3,200 850,000
Australia 9,260 970,000
Brazil 160 64,000
Canada (2010) 480 180,000
Chile 12,600 7,500,000
of China 5,200 3,500,000
Portugal 820 10,000
Zimbabwe 470 23,000
World total 34,000 13,000,000
On the other hand no, it's highly reactive, breaks down easily, and can't necessarily be utilized just because it's present.
I'll hit the wiki one more time:
One of the largest reserve base of lithium is in the Salar de Uyuni area of Bolivia, which has 5.4 million tonnes. US Geological Survey, estimates that in 2010 Chile had the largest reserves by far (7.5 million tonnes) and the highest annual production (8,800 tonnes). Other major suppliers include Australia, Argentina and China. Other estimates put Chile's reserve base (7,520 million tonnes) above that of Argentina (6 million).So, South America... the new middle east?