Global Sustainable Use of CO2
Updated: May 12
There is more CO2 in the atmosphere than ever before
Carbon dioxide is the fourth most abundant gas in the atmosphere, but it is one that can have a large and potentially dangerous impact for the Earth. CO2 is necessary for the survival of all things on Earth, as plants utilize it for photosynthesis processes and all animals depend on plants for survival.
Natural levels of CO2 are good for the Earth- our planet would be cold and inhospitable if it weren’t for low amounts of greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. However, the current atmospheric concentration of CO2 is 0.04 percent, or 400 parts per million, but the concentration was about 270 parts per million before industrialization. We are consistently experiencing the highest levels of CO2 ever recorded, and the numbers are just going to rise. Human interactions have raised the amount of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels and other organic materials like coal, gas, oil, and wood. If only half of our current greenhouse gas amounts could trap enough heat to warm a planet, what drastic effects could occur when global CO2 levels continue to rise?
How does CO2 trap heat in the atmosphere?
It is important to understand exactly how CO2 and other greenhouse gases are dangerous. We already know that they trap heat, but how does this happen?
Solar energy bounces off Earth and returns to the atmosphere as heat, and some of it moves towards space. The rest of it gets trapped by the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which radiate the heat either back into space or back down to Earth. With more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from human emissions in addition to natural processes, there is more space for heat to be trapped and sent back down to Earth. This results in heat staying in the atmosphere for longer periods of time.
Photo by Power Smart for Schools
A warming climate will mean stranger weather that coincides with rising sea levels, which can turn some regular storms into catastrophes. It can also affect the availability of natural resources and food supply due to less reliable weather patterns, further threatening our already rising population.
In addition to being the main driver of global warming and climate change, these gases pose major health risks to humans. The average outdoor concentration of carbon dioxide is around 400 ppm, but indoor concentrations can easily get much higher than that. Negative health effects related to carbon dioxide begin at 1,000 ppm, with various symptoms such as drowsiness, loss of concentration, and headache. More serious issues begin at higher concentrations, but if the outdoor concentration of CO2 continues to rise due to the greenhouse effect, the concentration indoors will rise, and quickly. Ventilation systems utilize outdoor air to refresh the indoor space, but rising CO2 levels can result in the addition of polluted air to HVAC systems.
Eventually, the CO2 emissions that have been released into the atmosphere will be sequestered by natural carbon sinks like plants, oceans, and soil, but that will likely take thousands of years. For other greenhouse gases like nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases, it could take millions of years for natural removal. At that pace, combined with the current anthropogenic emissions, the Earth will not be able to take up as much greenhouse gases as are being emitted into the atmosphere, and greenhouse gas levels will rise exponentially.
Through a life cycle assessment that takes into account raw materials, timing, processing, and all other parts of a system, the net carbon usage and environmental viability can be quantified. When a system or process puts out just as much carbon dioxide as what it requires to operate, that means that it is carbon neutral. It is imperative for companies and governments to start on the road to carbon neutrality because the crises that come with increasing levels of greenhouse gases affect the entire Earth, including humanity through the environment and economics.
Sustainable practices that make use of CO2
Figuring out how to limit the amount of carbon dioxide that enters our atmosphere is and will continue to be one of the most pressing challenges of the coming decades, and it will take the most innovative solutions to achieve this. Luckily, there are many avenues that humanity can follow in the attempt to combat greenhouse gas emissions. Lots of sustainable practices exist or are on the brink of production that can limit, capture, or make some other use of CO2. Recycling CO2 into various fuels, chemicals, and other materials has emerged as a promising way to control the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. Processes exist that can capture CO2 while creating biofuels for vehicles and other processes. Additionally, materials science benefits from carbon capture, as various plastics, concrete, and fibers can be made from CO2 that can make building materials, toothpaste, food products, and medicines.
Photo by Futurity
One promising way to reuse and recycle CO2 for an environmental benefit is incorporating it into building materials like concrete. The gas is transformed into a solid that can be used in concrete, and it also can be used to cure concrete. The low-energy chemical reaction traps CO2 in the concrete, sequestering it for years. CO2 can also be easily extracted from steam emissions of power plants, and one company is even converting that CO2 and H2 into methanol for gasoline additives and biodiesel production. Something else that utilizes CO2 is direct air capture (DAC). On an industrial scale, large fans move air through a system that uses a membrane to pull CO2 from the air – the CO2 can either be stored or used in other ways.
How does Carbon Reform fit into this mission?
At Carbon Reform, our mission has always been clean air for all. We are chasing our goal of health for people and the planet through carbon capture, and we are creating modular devices that capture CO2 from indoor air within commercial HVAC systems. Our Carbon Capsule diverts vent air from the HVAC system, and through a chemical reaction, converts CO2 polluting the building into calcium carbonate, a material commonly used in construction, medicine, and oil & gas industries. The clean air is diverted back into the system, lowering the need for more frequent air changes which lowers the energy costs. Removing the CO2 from the system also lowers the risk of building occupants suffering from symptoms related to sick building syndrome. This process is entirely carbon neutral.
To learn more about our mission of clean air for people and planet, visit our website: www.carbonreform.com.