How to capture and extract carbon dioxide

01Aug12

Carbon dioxide is one of the many natural and man-made gases that build up in the atmosphere, forming a thick layer that affects the Earth in two ways, both detrimental to life in this planet: one, it blocks heat and energy coming from the sun; and two, it traps unwanted heat that would normally escape into the atmosphere and away from the Earth were it not blocked by the layer of emitted gases. This phenomenon, called the ‘greenhouse effect,” is characterized by the rising temperature of the Earth’s surface, which drastically alters normal weather patterns and causes radical changes in ocean levels. This is “global warming,” and it is exactly what is happening today in many parts of the world.

The atmosphere is known to be capable of absorbing as much as 6.1 billion metric tons of man-made carbon dioxide emissions a year. But economic activity on Earth, which drive the increased burning of fossil fuels, raise the amount of carbon dioxide dumped annually into the atmosphere to about 3.2 billion metric tons more.

Click here to view interactive graphic.

 

One way to alleviate the unchecked rise in gas emissions — which, by itself, grew by 80% between 1970 and 2004 — is to trap carbon dioxide it at its source, extract it and  transport it to a safe location for storage, and eventually release it back into the atmosphere.

As of 2008, Wisconsin’s utility company, We Energies, has begun employing a process called “scrubbing” to extract carbon dioxide. It uses chilled ammonia to separate carbon dioxide from exhaust gas before carbon is shipped by pipeline to a storage area with vast underground sandstone formation.

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INTERACTIVE: TURNING BACK THE ASIAN CARP

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Interactive graphic by Alfred Elicierto. Related story and print graphic published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in on Feb. 27, 2008.

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The world’s richest oil deposit
The Haiti earthquake
Treating gunshot wounds
What animals mean when they ‘talk’

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2 Responses to “How to capture and extract carbon dioxide”

  1. Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are naturally regulated by numerous processes collectively known as the “carbon cycle.” The movement (“flux”) of carbon between the atmosphere and the land and oceans is dominated by natural processes, such as plant photosynthesis. While these natural processes can absorb some of the net 6.1 billion metric tons of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions produced each year (measured in carbon equivalent terms), an estimated 3.2 billion metric tons is added to the atmosphere annually. The Earth’s positive imbalance between emissions and absorption results in the continuing growth in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

  2. Plants taking in carbon dioxide also change what they leave behind. That’s because plants prefer gas that contains carbon 12, a lighter form of the carbon atom. The rejected gas, containing carbon 13, builds up in the atmosphere. The ocean, though, does not discriminate, leaving the carbon ratio unchanged. From these clues, Tans and others have found that while the ocean is soaking up almost half the globe’s missing carbon—2 billion tons (1.8 billion metric tons) of it—the sink in the Northern Hemisphere appears to be the work of land plants. Their appetite for carbon dioxide surges and ebbs, but they remove, on average, more than 2 billion tons (1.8 billion metric tons) of carbon a year.


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