Carbon Sucker: CR5
What carbon dioxide has to do with national security and a dog’s tail.
By Maria Popova
Recycling alone won’t do it, carbon offsets are a joke, and geoengineering is a bandaid at best. Even our most committed resolve to change our unsustainable ways may just take too long to prevent the grim consequences of decades of wasteful consumption. Let’s face it, the best solution to our climate pickle would be to suck the carbon dioxide right out of the atmosphere and be done with it.
Luckily, researcher Rich Diver at Sandia National Laboratories, a U.S. facility developing national security products through science and technology, has been working on just that — and then some. (Because, at this point, the climate crisis is a matter of trans-national security.) He has developed a prototype for a machine that uses solar energy to convert carbon dioxide waste from power plants into transportation fuels like gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel — an interesting alternative to carbon sequestration where, instead of stashing CO2 in underground storage, carbon dioxide can actually be put right back into the energy system.
The device, called the Counter-Rotating-Ring Receiver Reactor Recuperator (CR5), may take 15-20 years before it becomes an efficient market-ready technology. (Researchers want to pump up its efficiency to a few percent, double that of real-world photosynthesis.) And, of course, there’s still the glaring issue of using energy waste to create non-clean-burning energy, which in turn creates more waste — no dog chasing its tail ever got anywhere.
But we still think the development is important — not even because of the actual technology, but because of what it connotes: A large-scale effort from governments, institutions and scientists to brainstorm possible solutions and really get their hands dirty until they find the right ones, the ones that both help undo decades worth of damage and offer long-term solutions for the future.
Meanwhile, though, you should still recycle, you know. And don’t forget today (if you’re in the U.S. — tomorrow if you’re anywhere else) is Buy Nothing Day.
Published November 27, 2009