Scientists Propose Plan to Suck CO2 Greenhouse Gas From Air, Turn Into Fuel

Scientists announced they are on the cusp of perfecting technology that would pull CO2 from the air and convert it into a fuel source. The tool could help humans reverse some of the effects of global warming and perhaps give our planet a second chance.

In a study published online Thursday in Joule, scientists at the Canadian company Carbon Engineering explained their CO2 extraction plans. The machine works by sucking air into cooling towers, the BBC reported. Once inside the towers, the CO2 comes into contact with a liquid that captures the gas. Once captured, the CO2 would then be used as the main material for a synthetic liquid fuel.

It is currently possible to extract CO2 from the air, but the process is expensive. According to the paper, the new machine may be able to do so at a reduced price: $94 to $232 per ton of CO2 from the atmosphere. Previous attempts to accomplish this priced the feat at around $600 per ton, the BBC reported.

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Trees in Thuringian Forest, near the village of Altendambach, Germany, on May 23. A new machine would be able to mimic the nature actions of plants to suck CO2 out of the air. Christof Stache/AFP/Getty Images

The process uses a liquid sorbent to collect the CO2, unlike others that have used a solid sorbent. According to the study, this offers an advantage, as the liquid sorbent machine is cheaper to build and can operate continuously.

CO2 is necessary for life on Earth. The gas collects in the atmosphere and helps absorb the sun's energy and redirect it toward Earth, Sciencing reported. That helps to keep the planet warm, but too much can make the planet too warm. Plants naturally remove CO2 from the air, and the proposed machine would mimic their natural actions.

Previous attempts to address carbon emissions in the atmosphere faced criticism, the BBC reported. This plan not only removes CO2 from the air but also uses the captured CO2 to create fuel. The finished product would use less land and water than other types of biofuels, fuels created from a living organism such as ethanol or biodiesel.

"This is a real step forward, and it's not just our company saying it," David Keith, a founder of Carbon Engineering and a professor of applied physics at Harvard University, told BBC News. "I hope this changes views about this technology from being this thing which people think is a magic savior, which it isn't, or that it is absurdly expensive, which it isn't, to an industrial technology that is doable and can be developed in a useful way."