Plastic Leaf Technology Mimics Trees to Reduce Carbon Levels

While promising, carbon capture technologies can only cut back on new pollution, so what about the billions of tons of carbon already in the atmosphere? Trees capture carbon, but not fast enough to soak up all the emissions from burning fossil fuels for energy.

To solve this problem, two scientists from Columbia University’s Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy took inspiration from trees and invented a plastic “tree” that absorbs carbon at a much higher rate than Mother Nature. The technology could also turn that captured carbon into a valuable energy source.

energyNOW! correspondent Josh Zepps looked into a new technology that pulls a thousand times more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than trees, and could one day power our cars and trucks.

“You can remove CO2 anywhere you want, and it can deal with emissions from anywhere else on the planet,” said Allen Wright, a scientist at the Lenfest Center. “There’s no real major discovery or invention that has to happen that would prevent us from deploying that technology tomorrow.”

Beyond just removing CO2 from the atmosphere, the new technology could also turn it into a valuable commodity. “You can add hydrogen to those (captured) carbon atoms and re-create gasoline,” said Klaus Lackner, a scientist at the Lenfest Center. “It has a zero net impact on the environment because you’re taking the carbon out that burning the gasoline will put in.”

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