Is Storing Carbon Dioxide the Future of Environmentalism?


Look in today’s newspapers and you find no end to discussions about climate change. It seems like everyone has an idea regarding how to best minimize human contributions to environmental crises. These plans range from the practical (switching to renewable energy sources, setting energy efficiency targets, and reducing waste) to the more far-fetched (reviving extinct species such as the woolly mammoth to restore pre-Ice Age environments effective at reducing carbon dioxide levels). Despite near-constant conversations about global warming over the last three decades experts have often neglected to mention certain beneficial approaches. One such approach is the storage of carbon dioxide. Though it may seem like a difficult task, there are actually quite a few practical reasons in making attempts to do so.

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Where Can We Store C0₂?

When you hear “storing carbon,” your first reaction is most likely negative. “Storing carbon requires more landfills or isolated facilities, right?” Thankfully, neither of those is true. Instead, engineers can store carbon both underground and underwater. In fact, between the two of them, the earth can hold over 10 trillion tons of carbon dioxide. At the current rate, that means scientists could store 100% of all global emissions for the next 100 years.

Underground Storage

Scientists have investigated several methods for storing carbon dioxide emissions underground. It takes far more work than simply burying the pollution out in the desert and hoping for the best. When stored deep enough, the underground pressure makes C0₂ behave more like a liquid than a gas. It seeps down into porous rocks, allowing for massive amounts of the gas to reside in a relatively small space. Oil and gas companies have used this process, known as geological sequestration, for years. They use this same method to tap all available fuel from depleted reservoirs.

Other studies have pointed to basalt as a viable option for the underground storage of carbon dioxide. Among the most common rocks found in the planet’s crust, basalt turns to limestone when injected with C0₂. The ocean floor is even made of basalt, which has led many to consider this method of underground storage a practical option.

Underwater Storage

Earth’s oceans offer another avenue for solving the carbon dioxide emission crisis. Researchers claim that it is safe to dump C0₂ directly into the ocean. At the right depths, some 3500 meters below the surface, experts believe carbon dioxide gas turns into a slushy liquid that falls to the ocean floor. Proponents of this type of storage hope to house the gases in giant bags on the abyssal plain. The abyssal plain is deep enough to exert massive amounts of pressure and hovers at a temperature around 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Under these conditions, environmental scientists may have an answer to combating global climate change.

Dangers of Carbon Storage

While preventing C0₂ from entering the atmosphere is a great idea, there are still some scientists who think there could be consequences that human beings haven’t accounted for. Much of the science involved with these storage methods is theoretical. Scientists have conducted very few studies to test the lasting effects of these methods of carbon storage.

Storing emissions also raises questions about the safety of marine life. Some claim that though housing C0₂ inside the earth could prevent increasing global temperatures, humanity could set itself up for future catastrophes. No one can predict the implications of carbon storage where it relates to wildlife populations in the ocean.

The massive amounts of carbon dioxide storage it takes to stave off global warming might sound like a temporary fix to a huge issue. In a way, it is. What experts hope is that the storage of emissions can buy humanity the time it needs, up to a few hundred years at best, to come up with better, more permanent solutions. Global warming is not a challenge that scientists can expect to reverse in the next decade. Finding that answer requires years of testing, research, and failure before there is a cure for the rampant global environmental changes taking place.

What are your thoughts on carbon dioxide storage? Do you think that scientists should pursue this method as a viable option to slow down climate change? Does housing these massive amounts of dangerous gases in the earth’s crust and oceans sound like a mistake? What other solutions do you think experts can develop to help save the environment? Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments.

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What Do You Think?

About Eva Willis

Eva is not your average stay at home mom. She has a master’s degree in biochemistry and has a wealth of experience in anthropology. When she had her twins, she decided to put her career on hold, and has never regretted it for a minute. Her boys, now four years old, are her pride, and joy. To put her many talents to good use, Eva often does quite a bit of writing online. She has learned the art of making science come alive and breaking up big topics into to bite-sized pieces. Watching her boys grow up is one of the most rewarding experiences of her life. She is eagerly looking forward to teaching them about the beautiful world around us, but until they are old enough to understand, she is thrilled to share her wealth of knowledge online.

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