I read a news story last week about Royal Dutch Shell setting up a carbon capture and storage operation on the Athabasca Oil Sands in Alberta. As the experts agree that we have too much CO2 and that we’re soon to have way too much of it, finding ways to get rid of it are probably good.
The thing is, people are worried about the side-effects of pushing all this high-pressure gas underground. If fracking can be blamed for earthquakes and that’s really just a temporary spike in pressure, what might a million cubic meters of compressed subterranean carbon dioxide do for us?
Not to mention that storing this CO2 is, itself, an energy-intensive operation in that you have to push it underground and keep it there.
So I had an idea.
Apparently the technology almost exists to build a space elevator. The only thing really holding it back – technologically – is the cable or ‘ribbon’ that will actually be the main structure of the thing. Carbon nanotubes look promising, but we can’t make enough of them yet to make this happen. Once we have this, of course, it means we could put anything we want onto the elevator and just lift it right into space, using a small fraction of the energy that rockets would require to do the same thing. Cool stuff.
Now – here’s the idea – what if, instead of putting up an elevator in 50 years or whatever, we put up a straw right now? Yes…just a tube that was anchored somewhere on Earth (at the Equator, I would presume) and that we could just ‘pump’ the CO2 we didn’t want out of?
Our excess CO2 is sent hurtling off into the solar system or wherever, and we don’t really care because as far as we’re concerned – it’s gone. No high-pressure subterranean caverns, no quake possibilities…basically once it’s gone it’s gone forever.
And, really, with the tube open-ended into space you probably wouldn’t even have to actively pump to put CO2 out the other end – perhaps a siphon would begin that would just keep pulling out whatever we put into the bottom end. (And if it didn’t, perhaps we could exploit some other effect that would reduce or eliminate the Earth-bound energy required to run the thing.)
As the ‘straw’ wouldn’t have to carry the kind of weight that an elevator might, we probably have stuff we could use for this right now.
Sure, you’d need to get your CO2 to the base of the straw somehow, but assuming you could pipeline it or even generate it on-site by extracting it from seawater or the atmosphere it shouldn’t be too tough to come up with.
Of course, another possibility would be the disposal of nuclear waste. Assuming the straw was big enough around that you could pop nuclear fuel pellets or the like into it, or even dilute liquids in addition to gaseous or gasified wastes – you could just send that jazz up the tube as well and kiss it goodbye. It could solve the CO2 problem and the nuclear waste problem at the same time. And, hey, why not filter stuff like Sulfur Dioxide and other nasties from the air and send them up as well?
So, just a thought. And however feasible it might be, the question would remain: Who would pay to build it?