Greenhouse Effect: Why Not Technology to the Rescue...?

I know people’s opinions differ on the matter, at least in the United States. But I assume most rational people in the scientific world believe global warming and the greenhouse effect are a serious matter. But I was thinking, why can’t technology come to our aid once again? Specifically, why can’t someone invent a plant that processes carbon dioxide into oxygen at far greater rate that ordinary plants? I assume to do such a thing might just require selective breeding, the way grapes are made seedless, apples are made more succulent, etc.

Has anyone heard of someone in any way at least considering what I mentioned above? Because I think it would be an excellent idea, if only a partial fix for the problem.

Thank you in advance to all who reply :slight_smile:

Well, I’d say, from my perspective, its a given that technology WILL in fact save the day. Its either that or the world is doomed…and I have my doubts the world is doomed. No idea if anyone could do what you are asking (my guess is…biotech isn’t quite there yet, maybe not ever), but certainly OTHER technologies seem poised to take a big bite out of the global climate change picture (if in fact humans are the major cause).

Hydrogen powered vehicles are only a few years away (Toyota plans on releasing a full production version in 2015 and GM in 2010 IIRC), and most of the car companies are talking about hybrids now…especially the Japanese who are poises to provide a boat load of hybrids in all makes and models. And these are the next generation hybrids…much better than even whats currently out.

With gas finally going over $60/barrel I’d say that some alternatives will now be able to compete. On the power generation side (which you’ll need for one thing to make all that hydrogen fuel), new nuclear reactors are coming online in other countries that are smaller and a lot more efficient. If the US can ever break the grip of the old style enviro-nazi groups and they ridiculous aversion to anything nuclear, I think this will go a LONG way to solving ‘global warming’.

I’m sure the gloom and doomers will be along shortly to say that we are all doomed unless we go back to living in caves (just kidding btw :))…but I think ‘The Market™’ will provide, because folks will want to buy. And if folks want to buy…someone out there will figure out a way to sell it to them (for a profit). If gas prices stay high (and I see no reason they will ever drop back down again), then sometime in the very near future someone is going to figure out a way to make a better mouse trap…and make a fortune off it.


Some things have been proposed, like a solar shade in orbit or making reflective dust orbit the earth. I think part of the issue is we are not certain that man has caused any change in global temp and we should not mess with it.

The only way for plants to turn CO2 into O2 is to retain that carbon atom, by using it as structural material (cell walls). It gets released back into the atmosphere when the plant dies and decomposes. To prevent this, you need to harvest the plant and put it away where it won’t decompose. Sounds like a lot of work.

But we could probably engineer a plant that can be turned more easily into biofuels. That won’t remove CO2 from our atmosphere permanently, but it eliminates the need to burn even more fossil fuels.

Of course the current technology being used is simply geosequestration. The waste CO2 from powerplants, cars or whatever is trapped rather than being released. It is then liquefied and pumped down into natural reservoirs in the earth and the whole plugged. Problem solved (hopefully)

This isn’t some future technology, it’s operational now. It’s just that it increases the cost of energy production (naturally). The othe rproblem is that we can never be sure exactly how long term the solution is without trying it.

But the technology to sequester carbion certainly exists in workable form if we want to use it.

How is hydrogen generated?
There are two basic ways.

  1. Steam reformation. This gives off CO2 as a by product.
  2. electrolysis. Where does the electricity come from? From the same fossil fuels we have now.

Hydrogen cars might help smog and particulate pollution but they don’t really do much for CO2 emissions.

You do realise that we can and do generate large amounts of electricty without burning fossil fuels don’t you?

Then our problems are solved.

Its in my post…nuclear energy. If you REALLY want to (realistically) take a bite out of global climate change (and if in fact humans are the primary cause and there is anything we can do to change it), then you have to take the burning of fossil fuels out of the picture…not just in cars but in power generation as well. And to do that I don’t see any way except to go completely nuclear.

Only if you assume that the power will continue to be generated in the same old way.

Well, there is still all that engineering and logistics to do…not to mention convincing the public (at least in the US) who have had the fear of all things nuclear pounded into them for decades by environmental types. But yeah…essentially its within our technological capability (or near capability) to take a rather large chunk out of our greenhouse emissions if we choose to do it.


This is more or less my main point. Hydrogen cars don’t do anything about generating energy. The hydrogen economy is a distraction from the main issue which is the primary power sources need to shift from fossil fuels. Promoting hydrogen moves cars from oil to coal.

However, as the world’s energy use grows, we will need more and more biofuels and more and more CO2 will be captured by those plants and more carbon will sit “idle” while the plants grow and are processed. And then as we build our energy reserves we will keep more of it idle even longer in a relatively compact and concentrated form (biofuel vs gaseous CO2).

It won’t solve all of our problems but it is a big start.

Are you proposing a plant that grows rampant without human intervention? Because once it starts covering most of your planet, driving away other forms of life, you’d want to contain it somehow. You know, like maybe burn it?

Otherwise, it’s going to take energy to grow and harvest the plants. And tractors tend to run on gasoline. Plants that grow but aren’t harvested tend to decay and eventually release the carbon back into the atmosphere.

I like the hydrogen car idea, because it removes automobiles from the fossil fuel equation. This frees policy makers from pointless “our cars still need fossil fuels” arguments.

I agree. Hydrogen alone is not the answer. However, hydrogen powered personal vehicles coupled with a total switch to nuclear power generation should do a hell of a lot to reverse the greenhouse effect…least thats what I’ve always read. And so my answer to the OP…technology COULD certainly rescue us. And not pie in the sky future technology either. We have the technology today for converting to nuclear power generation. The technology to convert to hydrogen for personal transport (and the logistics to support it, i.e. hydrogen filling stations) is less than a decade away. IF we are really serious about this whole environment thing. But…to do it, the old style environmentalists are going to need to finally give up their fear of all things nuclear and come out instead full bore to change the public perception by fully supporting and encouraging the building of a LOT of new plants.


Hybrid cars with the option of charging the batteries from the grid for commuting and using the gas engine for longer trips will also give us huge benefits. The hydrogen ecomomy is being grossly miss represented in the press and by polititions. I was listening to an NPR report about hydrogen as fuel and they said it was a great fuel because it is one of the most abundent elements on earth. This boggled my mind. It was just such a gross error.

Where is your evidence that it is the environmentalists who are blocking nuclear power? Nuclear plants haven’t been built in the U.S. because the economics isn’t there, plain and simple. In some other countries such as France (and I believe Japan) where fossil fuels are much more expensive, nuclear power has played a bigger role.

What you seem to want to do is provide even more subsidization to an industry that has already received a hell of a lot of subsidization. I would question why we should do this. It seems to me that a more market-oriented solution would be to make fossil fuels pay more of their real costs by, e.g., a carbon tax. That may in fact encourage nuclear power but not by unfairly advantaging it relative to everything else.

Finally, if you want to subsidize some technology, there are a lot stronger arguments for doing this for technologies such as wind, solar, and various conservation technologies which clearly are still at the stage where they are fighting issues of economies of scale and so forth. A mature technology like nuclear shouldn’t need subsidization.

By the way, on the general issue of global warming and whether it will be solved by technology or regulation: Basically I think this is a false dichotomy perpetuated by the camp (fossil fuel industry and many conservatives and libertarians) that doesn’t want any government action on climate change. The point is that regulation is necessary to encourage technological solutions. The market doesn’t magically solve problems that it doesn’t know exist and the problem of CO2 emissions doesn’t exist from a market point-of-view when everyone is allowed to use the atmosphere as a free sewer for these emissions.

Another way to make nuclear much more viable is to drastically relax the safety and disposal standards. IMHO, The fear of the nuclear boogyman is so great that regulators have forced plant operators to go far above and beyond any other industry in terms of safety and waste disposal which adds to the cost of nuclear power massively.

Moving to hydrogen cars is a preparatory step, which will mean that large-scale shifts to increase renewable (or nuclear) electricity production directly correlates to reducing the carbon emissions caused by road transport - without any sudden shock to everyday behaviour.

I certainly agree that the hydrogen angle is being thoroughly misrepresented, often by politicians who should be taking remedial physics classes. However, not taking any steps to move away from 100% fossil-fuel-powered road transport makes it impossible to ever reduce those emissions.

I disagree, Hydrogen can be the answer, but not by burning it, we have to figure out this fusion thing. Actually I also have high hopes with He3 fusion, which will also open up the moon for colonization.

Is it really operational? I know some experiments are ongoing, but I didn’t know it was being used anywhere in the world.

But “moving away from fossil fuel” doesn’t necessarily mean moving away from internal combustion engines. Ethanol and biodiesel are renewable fuels that can be burnt in existing (or slightly modified) automobiles.

Why switch to hydrogen now and burn coal while we wait for new renewable energy power plants to come online? Why can’t we wait until we actually have the alternative energy sources, and we’re sure that’s more cost-effective than biofuels?