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Putting CO2 to work

Clean Technology and Climate Change Solutions

Even during the heady first days of Obama’s presidency, it’s easy to get that discouraged over the rapid pace of global warming, and the bad news that Mother Earth seems to be sending to us with each and every news cycle.

Frankly, we have so much ignorance to overcome, and that’s just the beginning of our fight.

But every so often, a light glimmers along the horizon. There are brilliant minds out there who are looking at our world with fresh eyes — with intellect engaged, and wit at the ready. As we don’t want One Blue Marble to merely be your daily dose of doom and gloom, we want to talk about these technologies and breakthroughs, and their potential to change our world.

Which is my way of saying that this will be a regular feature of our blog.

Calera

Wine lovers will be forgiven for thinking that I’m recommending a really fine glass of Pinot Noir to overcome a bad day, but Calera is also the name of a cement company that want to use carbon dioxide to change the construction industry.

When some wise hunter coined the aphorism about killing two birds with one stone, he was taking about Calera.

On one hand, we have coal-fired power plants (and tar sand oil refineries) spewing greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere, and the planet is warming dangerously. Coal companies will argue that clean coal* is on the way — but carbon capture and sequestration technology might not work, and it’s a good 15 to 20 years away from widespread implementation. By that time, the planet with be cooked like your mother’s pot roast.

On the other hand, we have the cement industry, and it’s a dirty, dirty problem, for cement production is responsible for up to eight percent of the world’s GHG all by its lonesome.

But several companies are trying to do something about that by turning CO2 into a useful product that society needs. In the case of Calera, that product is cement. The company is operating in stealth mode, so details are scarce, but this California startup has created a process that sequesters one-half ton of CO2 for every ton of cement produced. In a nutshell — or is that sea shell? — Calera is working on a process similar to the one invented by coral to make their crusty exteriors. One description suggested that Calera bubbles flue gas heavy with CO2 through sea water to produce carbonic acid and then eventually refines a slurry into calcium carbonate.

Billionaire Vinod Khosla, a clean-tech guru to many, has put hs money behind Calera. That should tell you something.

The good news is that there are many similar companies out there trying to turn carbon dioxide into something that won’t harm the planet, including Carbon Sciences and Carbon8. It’s also being studied at many univesities in the UK and elsewhere.

We’ll keep an eye peeled. Because if we can sequester carbon in cement, we can start using cement on roads and in cities to keep them cooler, and avoid the urban heat island effect that stresses air conditioning in summers. The potential is enormous, and it could buy us some much needed time!

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Clean coal is destined to become one of the great oxymorons of our time, like jumbo shrimp, friendly fire, religious extremist, and compassionate conservative.

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