The Canadian company Carbon Engineering, formed in 2009 with partial funding from Bill Gates, has developed technology to scrub carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. A pilot plant for capturing the gas will open by the end of 2014, reports The New York Times. While the process is aimed primarily at cleaning up the environment, there may be a profit opportunity as well. The oil industry could purchase captured carbon dioxide to inject into oil fields to help extract additional oil, a widely used procedure that Howard J. Herzog, a senior research engineer at MIT, says poses little environmental risk. As oil becomes scarcer, demand for carbon dioxide will likely increase.
Carbon Engineering plans to capture at least 100,000 tons of the gas per year, some of which could also be used to feed biofuel-producing algae. But the cost of carbon capture—a consideration for any potential resale market—has yet to be determined. Timothy Fox of London’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers says that establishing the cost of trapping the gas will be critical in setting a corresponding price that polluters would pay for carbon emissions.
Carbon Engineering president and Harvard professor David Keith spoke at Techonomy 2012 about more ambitious methods of curbing the rate of global warming by releasing sulfur, via airplane, into the stratosphere. “Does it remove all climate problems? No,” said Keith. “But whether you think this is a completely nutty idea or a perhaps good idea, what’s clear is that it’s kind of frighteningly doable.” Once they’ve proven that they can capture (and possibly resell) carbon dioxide from the lower atmosphere, Keith and his company may very well set their sights on repairing the ozone layer.