The granular details of climate change may be difficult to unpack, but at the most general level we understand that greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide trap more of the sun’s radiation within our atmosphere, raising surface temperatures. Reducing GHG emissions is a pressing but difficult task because it so often involves constraining economic growth, which is why a new breakthrough from scientists at Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory is so encouraging. Researchers say they’ve discovered a method to convert carbon dioxide into usable ethanol in a process that could make emissions reductions profitable. Popular Mechanics has the story:
[R]esearchers were attempting to find a series of chemical reactions that could turn CO2 into a useful fuel, when they realized the first step in their process managed to do it all by itself. The reaction turns CO2 into ethanol, which could in turn be used to power generators and vehicles. […]This process has several advantages when compared to other methods of converting CO2 into fuel. The reaction uses common materials like copper and carbon, and it converts the CO2 into ethanol, which is already widely used as a fuel.
The big test, of course, will come when this process is moved out of the laboratory and into the real world—we can’t anoint this as a workable solution until it’s proven to be commercially viable and scalable. But it’s exactly the sort of potential fix that we’re going to need if we want to tackle our admittedly enormous climate problem.Greens have gotten very good at painting an apocalyptic vision of our future in a crowded, warming world, but that dim outlook ignores our capacity to solve problems. The pace of technological change is accelerating, and it’s bringing with it a host of new possibilities, like this new method of converting CO2 into fuel.