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Climate protection: how much can technology achieve?

Climate protection: how much can technology achieve?

With the help of these igloos, carbon dioxide is permanently stored in Iceland’s soil.Source: M. Hugo / ZDF

Rock flour, algae, or bulky carbon dioxide vacuum cleaners. Technical approaches are currently being researched worldwide to remove the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.

Says the expert d. Thorbin Amann. However, research and development must move faster.

today: How important are such technical solutions and what are their potentials for climate protection?

Thorbin Amann: This will be very important, because we will no longer be able to do this simply by reducing emissions. We’re a little late there. We can use these technical capabilities to support you.

They can offset emissions that we cannot easily reduce in any other way, such as emissions from agriculture.

Thorbin Amann, geologist

But we’re not so far in research that we can really say what the maximum potential is.

The “Orca” plant filters the greenhouse gas CO2 from the atmosphere and compresses it into the ground, and clean air can escape.

07.11.2022 | 01:58 min

today: There are now many different approaches, such as Iceland’s CO2 filtering systems, biochar and special algae that absorb greenhouse gases – or minerals that can bind it to the sea. Was there really a race between the competing styles?

man: No, it’s not a competition at all. I think we need all methods. It should be a comprehensive package, a set of different methods that can also stimulate each other, that can mutually generate additional synergistic effects, so that the overall potential can be increased even more.

I think all researchers see a need for pressure and speed.

Thorben Amann, University of Hamburg

today: You yourself are engaged in research on what is known as “accelerated weathering”. Rock flour, rich in minerals, is spread across the field. Reacting with water, carbon dioxide is permanently bound. There have already been attempts. How well does it work and what potential does it have?

… holds a PhD from the Institute of Geology at the University of Hamburg. His research focused on accelerating weathering as a way to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it permanently.

man: We have been able to prove in the lab that the basic principle works very well and is also very effective. It also works in the field. We have to assume that. It is more difficult there, because of course the field is not a bucket or a rain barrel in which we do an experiment, but is open in all directions – up, down and on all sides.

Now we are faced with the great challenge of proving in the field that there was indeed a weathering effect, a carbon dioxide binding effect, for a given amount of rock flour. And we have to work on ways to prove that this is also stored for the long term.

Field test: This tractor spreads rock dust. Greenhouse gases must bind CO2.Source: ZDF

When the time is right, the global potential is within five percent of our current carbon dioxide emissions. But then we have to include a lot of farmland. This is not primarily a technical problem, but it does mean that everyone has to participate.

today: At the beginning of the year, the “inventory” of international scientists criticized that these technical methods were not advanced enough. So far, they would only take 0.002 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere each year. In order to meet climate targets, that would have to increase by 1,300 times by 2050. How do you see that?

man: I share this review. There is relatively little money involved when it comes to research. And it takes two years to write a research proposal that may not even get approved.

It will not be the same now if we are to achieve results by 2050. It will have to go faster.

Thorben Amann, University of Hamburg

And it will go faster if we fund more research on the one hand. But of course we also need the corresponding political guidelines in order to determine the direction we want to go, the goal we want to achieve. We need to have these solutions in the minds of the population.

This is what it is called in technical terms when greenhouse gases are actively removed from the atmosphere. This can be done naturally, for example through reforestation. Trees absorb carbon dioxide and store carbon. However, technical approaches are also possible, such as systems that filter greenhouse gases from the air, or special rock dusts that bind them permanently in the soil or at sea in decomposition products.

The IPCC is clear in its reports: in order to achieve the Paris climate limit of a maximum of 1.5 degrees of warming, it is not enough to quickly and radically reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, the gases that are already present and unavoidably must be effectively removed from the atmosphere – especially from the second half of the century.

today: Why is this obviously not the case?

man: Many solutions are technically complex, and their current data is sometimes relatively vague. This uncertainty leads to a tendency not to consider it as an option yet.

At the same time, there may also be a certain skepticism about interfering with climate, with global cycles, as we’ve already done on a large scale with carbon dioxide. But we must do something. It should appear in countries’ climate plans. Otherwise, we will not achieve more.

The temperature increase was already 1.1 degrees in 2022, with consequences such as flood disasters and heat waves. According to the United Nations, the states’ current climate plans are insufficient.

10/26/2022 | 01:32 min

today: With all these methods and ideas, no one can say: we are completely committed to technology, sit back and let the reduction of greenhouse gases?

man: This sounds attractive at first. The problem is that avoiding a ton of carbon dioxide, not emitting it, costs a certain amount, which is relatively small. It costs a lot more to get a ton of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere once it’s in.

And accordingly, you have to think: do you want to relax and pay ten times as much, or maybe twenty times as much? Or would you rather save money, do the obvious and stop emitting CO2?

The interview was conducted by Marc Hugo of ZDF’s Environment Department

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