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Giant carbon vacuums could cool Earth

Tall metal structures would scrub the greenhouse gas from the air.

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For a decade, Columbia University physicist Klaus Lackner has written about a way to stave off – and even reverse – climate change from human-emitted carbon dioxide: Scrub it directly from the atmosphere. And now, after three years of R&D, a Tucson, Ariz., company has unveiled a working model of a device based on Professor Lackner's idea.

Nine-feet tall and able to remove 50 grams of CO2 from the atmosphere daily, the device is a far cry from Lackner's vision of a 300-foot-tall structure sucking 15,000 cars' worth of emissions from the atmosphere yearly. But it fulfills the basic criterion of removing more carbon than it emits.

"We've got the way," says Allen Wright, president of Global Research Technologies, LLC, the company that developed the contraption. "Now we have to get the will."

Important details such as where to store the captured CO2 have yet to be resolved. And the carbon-capping regulation that would make such a device profitable has yet to be implemented. But with predictions of a 5.7 degrees F. increase and changes in rainfall patterns by century's end, the potential benefits of a direct control over atmospheric CO2 are evident to all. Although far from cost-effective, the technology exists to capture CO2 at coal-fired electric plants. But nothing yet exists for mobile sources such as cars and planes that account for about one-third of emissions. Capturing carbon directly from the atmosphere, says Lackner, precludes the need for cumbersome – and impractical – storage devices on vehicles. In theory, this technology could both offset emissions from human activity and remove greenhouse gases accumulated since the industrial revolution.

And it could allow civilization to burn through the estimated 100 to 200 years' worth of coal reserves without disastrously changing the climate.

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