Sunday, July 7, 2013

Saving the World 1 CO2 Molecule at a Time!

Ok, so I may not be saving the world, but if I am going to work then I want to do something that makes a real difference. My current research deals with carbon capture and storage (CCS), which is starting to become carbon capture UTILIZATION and storage (CCUS). The idea is that we are emitting too much carbon dioxide, or CO2, into the atmosphere so there are scientists and engineers working on finding a way to keep it out of the air.

A quick science lesson: Why should we care about CO2? Although CO2 makes up just a small amount of the air we breathe, it is a big deal when it comes to greenhouse gases. CO2 is good at reflecting radiation back to the Earth that would otherwise escape out to space, trapping heat like a greenhouse used to grow plants. Basically, as more CO2 is released, more heat is trapped on Earth causing temperatures to rise. To learn more, check out this site.

Burning fossil fuels is accelerating the CO2 rise so I want to figure out the best way to reduce our output. Right now, we rely heavily on fossil fuels to live. We use electricity, drive cars and cook. How can we reduce our carbon footprint while living in the way we want to live? We have to reduce our fossil fuel consumption, but coal, oil and gas are not going anywhere any time soon. While many people are working on technology that makes these resources more efficient, we need an immediate fix. I think the best way to do something right now is to capture that CO2 and bury it deep underground in very very salty reservoirs.

I am looking at what happens when CO2 is injected into these reservoirs. How much CO2 can be dissolved in the brine (the very very salty water) that is in the formations? What happens to the rock that makes up the reservoirs? Will the CO2 stay where we put it? As a PhD student, I kind of bury my head in the sand and only look at my part of this issue. The RECS program that I have been so excited about, helped me take my head out of the sand and breathe in all the CO2 we've been emitting. Over the next couple of days I will recap my experience and talk about the current research in the field.

~photo from Pamela Tomski~
Me in front of the National Carbon Capture Center

As parents, why do we even care? When there are so many other things to care about, does climate change really have to be another thing to worry about? Yes, we do need to worry about it. Some places may just get warmer so we'll have warmer winters and longer summers. Greenland may turn green again and crops may be able to grow there. But with warmth comes the spread of disease. Flowers are blooming earlier, but the bugs and birds that pollinate them are not yet migrating north earlier. Some places may get so hot it won't be safe to be outside. We are getting more intense storms with more frequency. There is more drought which cause more forest fires. Sure, we can try to adapt, but what about those who can't? Billions of people around the world are without air conditioners and a steady supply of food that can withstand drought. We should care about people in the world today, and especially about our children. What kind of world do we want to leave them? I hope to leave a world where they don't have to worry about going outside on a hot summer's day because it's too hot to breathe. A world where they don't have to worry about where they will get their next glass of water. A world where there is a New York that is still above water. What kind of world do you want to leave your children?

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