It is a well-known fact that the Earth is suffering from climate change. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have risen rapidly since the industrial revolution of the early 20th century and global temperatures have risen, triggering a positive feedback cycle and threatening to worsen it. According to reports, even if industrialized countries seriously accept and comply with drastic reductions in carbon emissions, warming will not begin to slow until the middle of the century. Emissions reduction must be combined with carbon capture (CC) in order to have a chance of avoiding the worst eventualities.
Elon Musk, president and CEO of Space Exploration Technologies Corp, better known as SpaceX, announced the Carbon Capture project on December 13 after being named Person of the Year by Time magazine.
While Elon Musk believes that improving access to space is essential to our long-term survival, he has also said that the lure of space technologies and achievements distracts attention from Earth’s problems. and that rockets produce excessive carbon emissions. Therefore, he said SpaceX would launch the Carbon Capture (CC) program to create propellants for its rockets. According to a New York Times report, SpaceX currently uses liquid oxygen with kerosene to power its Falcon rockets and has launched satellites into orbit, delivering supplies and astronauts for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and d other customers.
What is carbon capture and how will it work?
To begin with, carbon dioxide (CO2) must be removed from the atmosphere by air cleaners, absorption, chemical catalysts or other methods. It is then combined with water, creating hydrocarbons that essentially form the basis of the fuels we already use like oil and natural gas. The process creates biofuel and this biofuel produces fewer emissions than the fossil fuels we use today. This essentially translates into negative emissions that not only reduce the level of CO2 in our atmosphere, but also help accelerate the transition to alternative fuels.
Tweet by Elon Musk
SpaceX is launching a program to extract CO2 from the atmosphere and turn it into rocket fuel. Please join if you are interested.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 13, 2021
The announcement was made via Musk’s official Twitter account for which he is known, where he tweeted about SpaceX launching a program to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and turn it into rocket fuel. He also announced that it would be important for space missions to Mars, hinting at the Carbon Capture program’s intention to make thrusters on Mars, as the Red Planet’s atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide.
The idea is to refuel the spacecraft beyond Earth’s boundaries, making it a crucial part of Elon Musk’s long-term vision for humans to become an interplanetary species. It also opens up the possibility of fuel depots on Mars itself, making round trips a distinct and feasible possibility. Combine that with the reusable launch vehicles SpaceX has been working on and you can see how Elon’s long term plans to colonize Mars are coming together.
The need to colonize Mars and beyond
When it comes to colonizing space, the argument has always been that becoming an interplanetary species would guarantee the survival of humanity. In addition to Musk, the argument has been made by luminaries such as Stephen Hawking, J. Richard Gott and others. But it needs to be done in a more sustainable way and alternative fuels could be the way forward.
Other Carbon Capture Methods
World political leaders are trying to neutralize carbon emissions through carbon capture methods, such as planting trees, which has been the traditional and unavoidable method for years. The problem with this is that it’s not as efficient or as fast as we need it to be. However, new technologies are being developed to remove carbon on a large scale and function as carbon capture systems.
The Orca plant in Iceland, for example, uses direct air capture technology and is expected to remove 4,000 tonnes of carbon from the air each year. The plant’s massive fan filters capture carbon from the atmosphere and store it underground in basalt rock where it can be mineralized. Scientists are also investigating the use of microbes that turn carbon dioxide into fuel. They engineered a kind of bacteria that extracts carbon dioxide from the air and turns it into fuel in a single enzymatic step. The Rhodopseudomonas Palustris bacterium uses sunlight to produce methane and hydrogen inside the bacterium itself. The research seems to be very promising if it is scalable.
There is also the Canadian company Carbon Engineering, which manufactures liquid fuel with carbon dioxide directly extracted from the atmosphere and transforms it into ready-to-use compressed CO2 gas using only energy and water. . It can then be combined with hydrogen generated by non-fossil fuels to produce hydrocarbons. New York-based startup, Air Company, is on a mission to convert the Earth’s CO2 into usable products such as perfumes and alcohol without impurities. Along with this, NASA has also developed a method of converting CO2 into fuel using metal oxide thin film devices that convert the gas into fuel. The device can be used in industrial processes, converting carbon dioxide into fuel such as methane.
Carbon capture is important to Musk. His foundation funded the XPRIZE Carbon Removal competition with $100 million, which aimed to fight climate change and rebalance our planet’s carbon cycle. So far, only $5 million of this funding has been used. Musk and his SpaceX team hope to find an innovative way to convert atmospheric carbon dioxide into rocket fuel. If this target is achieved, it will open the door to other greenhouse gases taken from the air and recycled for other purposes.
There is further the prospect of harnessing the abundant resources of space to meet the Earth’s needs while reducing the environmental impact we have had on the world. In this regard, corporations and corporations (who are largely responsible for the dire situation we find ourselves in) need to cheer themselves up by adopting and scaling up these innovative carbon capture methods to offset the damage already done.