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Earth Science Technology

A Modest Proposal For Sequestration of CO2 In the Antarctic 243

First time accepted submitter Alienwise writes "Judith Curry reports a scientific concept of an atmospheric CO2 sequestration plant. It would be based in the Antartic to profit from the cold weather, which would facilitate the creation of CO2 snow — which would then be buried. The plant could be powered by windmills." The lead author has agreed to let Curry link to a copy of the final manuscript, if you'd like to read more.
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A Modest Proposal For Sequestration of CO2 In the Antarctic

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  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Saturday August 25, 2012 @08:26PM (#41125943)

    This doesn't involve eating babies, does it?

    • by evanbd ( 210358 )
      Actually, it just involves putting them in landfills where they don't decompose. Eating them means digesting them, which returns their carbon content to the atmosphere. This proposal replaces eating them with sequestering them.
      • You almost suggested what I always wonder, which is if we couldn't just bury our high-carbon waste (such as agricultural and food waste, such as cowpies) or for that matter just bury trees, maybe in coal mines. Perhaps not trees but whatever grows fastest.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward


          Lock the wastes up in a high-temperature, low oxygen charcoal. The carbon will be locked for centuries to aeons, and the process creates 3-9 times the energy necessary to run the pyrolysis process itself.

    • This doesn't involve eating babies, does it?

      For those who aren't English majors (or married to one ;-), 93 Escort Wagon is referring to a satirical essay [] written by Jonathan Swift, "A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burden on Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public". Swift's "modest proposal" is that children of the poor Irish could be sold as food to wealthy English.

      I can't tell if the authors of the article we are discussing are alluding to Swift's essay [] or whether they are t

  • Sell it to Coca Cola and Pepsi for making all our drinks fizzy!

  • Seems feasible (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gman003 ( 1693318 ) on Saturday August 25, 2012 @08:32PM (#41125977)

    This actually seems like a feasible plan.

    It plans not just for the extraction of atmospheric CO2, but the long-term storage of it. The power source is wind, so it doesn't fall into the trap of generating more CO2 than it generates.The choice of location makes sense for both the temperature and for the political neutrality. They don't list an actual cost, but it would likely be only in the tens of billions, hundreds of billions in the worst case. Which is a lot of money, yes, but not the trillions or quadrillions some plans have required. And it calls for a demonstration plant first, which would be just a few dozen million.

    The only thing I see stopping it is politics. In particular, America and China. Europe seems to at least recognize the need for action, and they're willing to work together to try things. China is generally too selfish and shortsighted to worry about the environment, but you could probably convince them if you could make it somewhat-profitable for them (just have the wind turbines and such made in China, that should satisfy them).

    But then it falls on to America. And you're going to need America at least not fighting this plan, because if the US decides to actively fight it, it's not happening. Period. You'd also need them to at least chip in a good chunk of the funding if you're going to do the full plan, make a serious dent in CO2. Problem is, denying the very existence global warming is a political *requirement* for half the country. They'll fight it just on principle, and I can't see the rest of the country fighting back for a project that doesn't have any immediate gains for the US specifically. While some sort of "compromise" could probably pull it off, or with luck it could be swept under the rug and never become a political issue, that's not guaranteed.

    Still, it's the best plan I've seen so far.

    • by Belial6 ( 794905 )
      The worst this could be called is a pork barrel project by those that are skeptical of the AGW claims. I would be one of those that is skeptical, given the amount of money to be made on both sides, and the politics involved with that. That being said, if CO2 is causing AGW, this sounds like a sensible plan. If it isn't causing AGW, then certainly sequestering as much as has been released in the last 200 years isn't going to do any harm. If it turns out that CO2 is causing AGW and we sequester too much a
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Carbons Credits. Biggest legal scam going. And you just reminded me that I need to get my carbon bank up asap.
    • Still, it's the best plan I've seen so far.


      Whenever man dips his whick in the FUD things always work out for the best! My hope for the future level is at PEAK!

    • by dasunt ( 249686 )

      This actually seems like a feasible plan.

      If it is feasible (and he has a rather odd title for a feasible plan), I wonder how it compares to fertilizing parts of the ocean with iron to encourage carbon sequestration through plankton growth. (Short explanation - in parts of the ocean, plankton growth is limited due to low iron levels, this plan adds iron to the ocean, the plankton take up CO2, die, then some of that CO2 ends up in the ocean abyss, where it tends not to escape (hopefully).)

      • The problem with that plan is that it's not completely under our control. It could bloom out of control, causing even worse climate change in the opposite direction, and we'd have no way to stop it. And it would cause damage to the regular oceanic ecosystem even if it did work perfectly - plankton blooms already cause mass killings of fish.

        And I've also heard that it may not actually sequester the CO2 all that well (much of it returning to the atmosphere), but I can't be assed to check up on that.

      • by Lehk228 ( 705449 )
        it has the inherant advantage of not throwing a gigantic monkey wrench into oceanic biochemistry

        the downside i see would be the CO2 thermal timebomb in that if nothing else is done about AGW and carbon emissions remain near sequester rates for a long period of time then exceed them, if the sequestered CO2 gets warmed and creates a runaway release.
    • It isn't a feasible plan. It isn't meant to be, hence the "Modest Proposal" title. For those who don't get the reference, read here [].

      Let me ask you a question. If your options were 1) Use a power source that doesn't require emission of CO2 to clean up CO2 or 2) Replace CO2 emitting power plants with power sources that don't require emission of CO2, which do you think would be more efficient? If you said #1, you missed a law of physics or two.

      The point of the article was to

      • From the physics and economics POV the easiest way would be mass extinction of humankind. The "don't emit CO2" idea is not a very realistic one as far as reality is concerned.

    • China could probably be convinced to do this on their own. A carbon credit right now is about $10 if I remember correctly. It's equal to 1 ton of carbon dioxide. If this plant cluster sequesters 1 billion tons per year, then that's China banking 10 billion per year. That would surely be a very short payback time for China, and if the program were expanded significantly enough, then China could eventually keep reinvesting the money from carbon credits into the wind farms, to eventually balance out the entire

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by fermion ( 181285 )
      So I am assuming that this proposal is meant to be tongue in cheek. While completely workable, it kind of throws the baby out with bath water, so to speak

      To break it down, the climate change has to do with the production of energy, either to run our machinery or run our bodies. It is basically a result of a system that has not scaled well to out current level of consumption. For an end user solution we might help fix this problem by using less energy. This can be done by eating lower on the food chain

      • by mrvan ( 973822 )

        So I am assuming that this proposal is meant to be tongue in cheek. While completely workable, it kind of throws the baby out with bath water, so to speak

        I agree. You can state it even simpler: The best CO2 capture can do is undo the burning of fossil fuels. Due to inefficiencies, one needs more than 1 joule of sequestration to undo 1 joule of coal burning. Thus, to undo the total effect of burning fossil fuels, this plan requires more than our total energy production in wind farms. And if we are going to build those wind farms, why not build them closer by and stop burning fossil fuels in the first place?

        The only reasons this plan could have merit is (1) if

  • Some observations (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Saturday August 25, 2012 @08:43PM (#41126037)

    Hm... the abstract appears to convert 1 B tonnes (1 billion, I assume) into 1012 kg. It also omits a lot of words and is generally difficult to read because of it. They appear to use the coldest ever recorded temperature as their working temperature. They also don't talk about how they're going to keep all that CO2 frozen, or how much energy that's going to cost. Or what you do with the plant after five years when it's surrounded by CO2 dumps.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      1 B tonnes (1 billion, I assume) into 1012 kg

      The dumbfucks who wrote the article copypasted the 10^12kg without copying the font. In the original abstract, the 12 was a superscript, indicating exponentiation.

      Skip the article and read the abstract directly: []

      • 1 B tonnes (1 billion, I assume) into 1012 kg

        The dumbfucks who wrote the article copypasted the 10^12kg without copying the font. In the original abstract, the 12 was a superscript, indicating exponentiation.

        I don't know... Formatted copy and paste fail? Yeah, I'm going to put part of the blame the shit state of software in general -- That's something that could have been fixed a long time ago.

    • At the same time sequestering 1 gigaton of CO2 a year as in the proposal is a drop in the bucket compared to the approximately 30 gigatons currently emitted by humans yearly. It's not that helpful unless we reduce emissions below 1 Gt and even then the reduction will be slow compared to the rate we've increased CO2. And you are right, those deposits of dry ice will have to be maintained essentially forever to keep the benefit. The plan just doesn't seem that practical to me.

  • Modest proposal (Score:4, Insightful)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Saturday August 25, 2012 @09:06PM (#41126165) Journal
    When he calls it a modest proposal, does he realize he is copying another title, which essentially indicates he is being completely sarcastic, and not serious at all in what he proposes?
    • by mbone ( 558574 )

      Probably not.

    • by isorox ( 205688 )

      When he calls it a modest proposal, does he realize he is copying another title, which essentially indicates he is being completely sarcastic, and not serious at all in what he proposes?

      Swift was being sarcastic?

  • All we need is a John Carter now to lead a desperate mission to keep the atmosphere machine running... a half-trillion dollars or so later.
  • Dr. Agee et al.. If you want people to read it, submit your paper to Arxiv []. Publishing via Slashdot is just not the same.

  • Modest Proposal (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Saturday August 25, 2012 @09:56PM (#41126405) Journal

    I am amazed at how many people can't figure out that the dude is joking.

    If you are saying that you need to create a power source to convert the CO2 from the atmosphere into a form that can be buried, then the logical choice is why you can't simply use this power source to eliminate CO2 producing power sources in the first place.

    His 'modest proposal' should have tipped you off. Apparently, it was far too subtle for Slashdot.

    • Re:Modest Proposal (Score:4, Informative)

      by mbone ( 558574 ) on Saturday August 25, 2012 @10:09PM (#41126497)

      The words "modest proposal" do not appear in the actual article.

    • by robbak ( 775424 ) on Saturday August 25, 2012 @10:30PM (#41126611) Homepage

      A big point of this proposal is the strong, constant katabatic wind currents around Antarctica, which make the generation of large amounts of power feasible. But that power is in Antarctica, not New York, so you can't do much with it.

      And, yes, you can extract much more CO2 from the air with a unit of power than is produced generating that power, even from Coal.

      • by dargaud ( 518470 )
        Having worked there [] and seen attempts at recovering energy from the wind, I can tell you it's not easy. It can blow at 250km/h on the coast, and rocks and good sized chunks of ice fly with it, destroying blades from windmills easily. I've seen specially designed prototypes (horizontal blades, self-braking, etc) destroyed before they were even turned on !
    • ...why you can't simply use this power source to eliminate CO2 producing power sources in the first place.

      WE might want to fund a project called: HOTH Cli GigA DRIL (Halt Overt Terran Heating of Climate via Gigntic Arctic Death Ray and Intercontinental Laser), but one has to be a bit more subtle when presenting plans to the general public.

    • Re:Modest Proposal (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Sunday August 26, 2012 @01:03AM (#41127313)

      If you are saying that you need to create a power source to convert the CO2 from the atmosphere into a form that can be buried, then the logical choice is why you can't simply use this power source to eliminate CO2 producing power sources in the first place.

      It takes far less energy to compress CO2 into a liquid than you get from burning fossil fuels. Most estimates of CO2 sequestration and storage are that it will add about 20% to the cost of power generation.

      But this is still a silly idea because even though it requires less energy to compress cold CO2, there is no market for CO2 in Antarctica. But if you compress the CO2 in someplace like Texas, you can sell it. The buyers pump it into oilfields where it flushes out and displaces the oil, which floats above the liquid CO2 and is then pumped out. Once all the oil is recovered, the well is sealed and the CO2 remains underground.

  • with that frozen stuff, Future Generations!

    Too bad you can't complain to the original producers.
  • Profit? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by guttentag ( 313541 ) on Saturday August 25, 2012 @10:19PM (#41126545) Journal

    1. Build plant in really cold place
    2. Profit from cold weather
    3. Pull CO2 from atmosphere
    4. Bury CO2 snow
    5. Mankind benefits

    You must be new here, because you've got this all out of order. Here's how it's supposed to go:
    1. Build plant
    2. Pull CO2 from atmosphere
    3. Bury CO2 snow
    4. ???
    5. Profit!
    If profit is not the end goal, then fail. If "mankind benefits" is the last item on the list, then fail. Go back and try it again. You don't have to be evil to get this right, but it helps.

  • I have to admit, this idea is pretty cool. :-)

  • by rycamor ( 194164 ) on Saturday August 25, 2012 @10:43PM (#41126663)

    With the appropriate farming techniques, which have pretty much been forgotten in the age of high-volume industrial farming, carbon sequestration can be greatly increased [].

    It frustrates me beyond measure how our society tends to want to solve things with big, sweeping high-cost measures, and then when that becomes a problem, add yet another layer of over-engineering on top of that. Modern farming is one of the biggest problems in the carbon debacle. Cows are kept on bare concrete and fed a steady stream of grain, and the waste is just sloughed off to be turned to muck and eventually dried. Meanwhile, farms that grow produce tend to focus on only one crop (corn, wheat, whatever), thus progressively depleting the soil of resources for that crop, necessitating the high-volume production of fertilizer. Simple measures [] that can both increase the yield of farmland and create much healthier food, also happen to increase and thrive on carbon sequestration. If this were done on a major scale, I suspect our carbon problems would start to reverse.

    But I know... promoting wholistic measures like this make one seem like an old hippy. Honestly, it's too bad. There are so many ways to save effort and improve things, but instead we focus on the dramatic high-effort, high-risk solutions.

    • I dare say I concur with you here.

      It does seem as if the American (and to a lesser extent the European) approach usually involves "large sweeping solutions" when millions of "little" solutions can work more efficiently and more effectively. Part of this is, I think, the nature of the issue and those concerned about it--they feel that only if "the government does something" can it be solved, and by default that means a big program.

      Then you get into who trusts individuals and who doesn't, and of course
  • by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Saturday August 25, 2012 @10:57PM (#41126717) Homepage

    Use orbiting shades to shade much of Antarctica so that it is dark most of the summer. This should make it cold enough to form CO2 snow, removing CO2 from the atmosphere. It also would increase H2O snow accumulation, but that's ok as it would bury the CO2 and also tend to counteract sea level rise.

    • by Xyrus ( 755017 )

      Two words: partial pressure.

      The partial pressure of CO2 in the atmosphere would require both cold temperatures and higher pressures for CO2 to precipitate.

  • First, I did not read in the article how the storage is supposed to work for a long enough time. The CO2 has to be stored for a time on the order of 10 000 years, since that is the approximate lifetime of CO2 in the atmosphere. At atmospheric pressure the temperature has to stay below -78.5C for that. How is an isolated landfill supposed to achieve that?
    Second, why on Antarctica? His argument is the environmental temperature, which is 226K on average. The process should run at 133K or 152K. The maximum the
    • On the other side, storing CO2 in the ground is also neither cheap or save, and having the CO2 released in Antarctica is better than in an inhabited area. Also in my opinion it is better if the CO2 is released within 10 000s or 100 000s of years than if it is stored for eternity, since it is generally needed for life, it is just too much at once now. The lifetime of a CO2 landfill isolated by water ice should be more predictable than the storage under ground.
      So if the lifetime of such a landfill is really
  • When did the human race become omnipotent? How can we have so much faith that we can 'fix Earth' when we don't even really understand how it works (follow _any_ science blog and note how many time scientists are 'surprised to discover that ...')?

  • Calculate out the cost of this infrastructure, now calculate out what could be done with it as carbon replacement. The opportunity cost is huge, and solely to protect sunk capital in carbon burning machinery.

    We are thinking like slave owners, try desperately to annex new land to move an increasingly inefficient economic model to. It doesn't work on cold economic grounds, because this is capital that will be very far away from all other human activity, and have no follow on applications. If you want giant

"How many teamsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?" "FIFTEEN!! YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?"