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Can Climate Change Be Stopped by Turning Air Into Gasoline?

June 20, 2018

This is an excerpt from a new article by PCI Fellows David Fridley and Richard Heinberg, published at Renewable Energy World

The headline of this article was composed simply by rephrasing the title of a popular recent piece in The Atlantic — “Climate Change Can Be Stopped by Turning Air into Gasoline” — as a question. That article, reporting on research by Harvard professor David Keith and colleagues, made a bold claim that, if true, suggests the global climate crisis can affordably be resolved with new technology. We set out to see whether Keith’s findings are as Earth shaking as the article’s title suggests, or something a little less tectonically noticeable.

In addition to his post at Harvard, Keith is also a founder and executive chairman of Carbon Engineering, a Bill Gates-funded company that studies how to extract carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. The basic process summarized in the article involves removing CO2 from the air, then combining it with hydrogen to produce a liquid fuel such as gasoline. This would, it is implied, entail no net new carbon emissions. Alternatively, the carbon taken from the air could be sequestered underground, thus reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. The process has been tested in a pilot plant for a couple of years, and Keith and his colleagues have plans for a commercial industrial operation to be up and running perhaps as soon as 2021. The article ends with a discussion of affordability, suggesting that all annual global carbon emissions could be removed by the process for “something like 3 to 5 percent of global GDP,” or approximately the amount by which the world’s economy grows in a good year. A mere pittance!

It sounds too good to be true. Is it?…

 
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