By Beth Kwon
Klaus Lackner’s approach to slowing global warming is to clean up the atmosphere—literally. In his lab at Columbia’s Engineering School, Lackner is working on technology to scrub carbon dioxide from the air, reducing levels of the harmful greenhouse gas that plays a major role in the increase of the Earth’s temperature.
“We need ways of getting the carbon dioxide, which is emitted by the combustion of fossil fuels, back,” says Lackner, the Ewing and J. Lamar Worzel Professor of Geophysics in the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering, and the director of the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy at the Earth Institute.
Lackner and Allen Wright, senior staff associate at the Lenfest Center, are developing artificial trees that will pull carbon dioxide from the air, just as real trees do. Their air capture machines are like giant filters that trap the carbon dioxide, which can later be freed and compressed to liquid carbon dioxide. Together with water and energy the carbon dioxide can be used as feed stock for synthetic fuels. Another alternative would be to safely sequester it deep below the Earth’s surface.
On a smaller scale, Lackner and Wright recently demonstrated how the technology can be used to supply carbon dioxide to greenhouses to maintain healthy plant growth. The filters pick up carbon dioxide in the outside air when dry; then release it when exposed to the damp, humid conditions found in a greenhouse.
“In the long term, we need to collect so much carbon dioxide to solve the climate change problem, and the greenhouses are a step on the way,” Lackner says. “Our goal is to use this to demonstrate you can really capture carbon dioxide and that you can do it at an affordable level.”
Video by Columbia News Video Team