A couple of weeks or so ago, I read this article on the venerable BBC website and borrowed the picture from it (I hope Carbon Engineering won’t mind). The story started me thinking about (i) how ingenious Humans are (ii) how useless Humans are and (iii) how we should start to transition from being useless to being ingenious.
It feels as if there are two different species of Humans on Earth (plus the apparent-superhuman one that inhabits the International Space Station).
One of our ingenious-turned-useless(or indeed deadly) technological inventions has been the internal combustion engine. Having helped us quite literally to shape our planet (our only planet by the way, in case anyone needs reminding – oil exploration companies seem to have forgotten this decades ago), it is now part of the problem rather than the solution. It is a dinosaur that should have become extinct, certainly in non-industrial applications, long ago.
Replacing all private fossil-fuel powered transport has to be a start, but it couldn’t happen overnight (for practical reasons apart from anything else). So, how about a transition period where fossil fuel cars are gradually, but quickly, replaced with renewable-powered alternatives, whilst using a non-fossil derived fuel to power them through the changeover?
The technology the article describes is quite ingenious – it scrubs the carbon dioxide from the air, where currently there really is too much of it, producing a pure stream of carbon dioxide. The carbon atoms can then be joined together in long chains to create fuel. OK, it isn’t quite that easy, but it uses well-established chemistry (the Fischer-Tropsch process from 1925, now you ask). If renewable energy is used to power the energy-hungry CO2 extraction process, the diesel produced can be close to being carbon neutral. Burning it would release carbon dioxide back into the air from whence it came.
What is needed right now, though, is a major car manufacturer to start properly mass-producing low cost electric vehicles and set in place the infrastructure of refuelling stations. My vision has always been of a garage forecourt where you drive in, the battery slides out from your car to be replaced with a fully charged one, and you drive off. The old battery is charged from solar panels mounted on the expansive roof that every petrol station has over the forecourt.
It strikes me that the path from useless to ingenious actually isn’t that hard a journey. It’s a bit like that phrase “it isn’t easy being green”. I would say “Oh yes it is, unless you’re a frog with a pig as a stalker. Then nothing can be easy.”
Next time on “Mr Snail goes on and on about renewable energy”: what to do with old bridges.