Green Junction: How exactly can carbon dioxide be removed from the air?By Julie Peller Ph.D.

A recent statement by the United States Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm, suggests that one of the many ways to address climate change is through the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. “..removing legacy carbon pollution from the air through direct air capture and safely storing it is an essential weapon in our fight against the climate crisis.” 

Carbon dioxide and water vapor are the greenhouse gases that are naturally part of the atmosphere and keep the earth warm enough for life. In the same way that humid air holds in heat, the elevated and rising level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been retaining additional heat; this is a significant contributor to climate change. 

How exactly can this excess carbon dioxide – carbon pollution – be removed from the air? This is a real challenge. Direct air capture (DAC) technologies take CO₂ from the air and either store it underground or convert it into useful products, such as concrete. The Swiss company Climeworks “draws air into a collector, inside which a selective filter captures CO₂ where it is eventually sequestered underground.”

The US federal government will be funding projects that can remove and store carbon dioxide in a permanent manner. The goal is to remove a million metric tons and will depend on innovative science since this is not well established. Maybe it would be easier to modify habits or sacrifice and reduce energy and material use. Most leaders (including faith leaders) rarely suggest lifestyle changes or energy conservation. A recent study of US bishops’ columns in diocesan news outlets since the release of Laudato Si showed that less than 1% even mentioned climate change. It seems we can all look for ways to be innovative on behalf of our earth in tackling this enormous, complex climate change crisis.  

Julie Peller, Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ), and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage, IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~6 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), and student and citizen participation in environmental work.  

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