American Innovation
Can We Turn CO2 Into Fuel?

The boundary between science and science fiction is blurring, as researchers are hard at work developing methods to capture the problematic greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from our atmosphere and turn it into diesel. Science Alert reports:

Scientists in Canada are developing an industrial carbon dioxide recycling plant that could one day suck CO2 out of the atmosphere and convert it into a zero-carbon e-diesel fuel. Developed by tech start-up Carbon Engineering and partly funded by Bill Gates, the system will essentially do the job of trees, but in places unable to host them, such as icy plains and deserts…[T]he CO2 recycling plant will combine carbon dioxide with hydrogen split from water to form hydrocarbon fuel. […]

Carbon Engineering is one of a handful of companies around the world that are now set on coming up with ways to suck enough carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to actually put a dent in the effects of climate change. There’s also the New York City-based start-up Global Thermostat, and Swiss-based Climeworks, which demonstrated earlier this year with Audi how its technology can capture carbon dioxide, and deliver it to German company Sunfire, where it was recycled into a zero-carbon diesel fuel.

When we look to the future, there’s a tendency to discount the possibility of radical technological leaps, to see humanity continue to grow and place a greater strain on its environment without taking into account our capacity to adapt to the new challenges we’ll soon be facing. That kind of thinking leads to the Malthusian hand-wringing characteristic of most modern green activism, but it’s a deeply distorted way of seeing the world.

The pace of technological change is accelerating, and that phenomenon isn’t just providing consumers with fancier phones—it’s also giving farmers the ability to grow more food while emitting less gasses and opening up vast new energy sources capable of reducing our reliance on some of our dirtiest supplies. The idea that we could not only capture carbon from our atmosphere—already a burgeoning industry in its own right—but also recycle that gas to produce fuel is a radical idea.

There are so many different, potentially game-changing innovations being researched right now that, while it’s too early to pick and choose which will work out, it’s hard not to be optimistic about the future. At the very least, it’s difficult to look at the next fifty years with the kind of Chicken Little mentality environmentalists favor.

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