'Trees on Steroids': Issam Dairanieh on Turning CO2 Into Products
By Sophie Yeo
How do you reduce CO2 emissions? The Global CO2 Initiative is pushing a unique approach: turn them into useful products, then sell them.
Based in San Francisco, the company has the ambitious aim to capture 10 percent of global CO2 emissions through carbon capture and usage. While this method is still in its infancy, the initiative aims to commercialize new ideas quickly by granting up to $100 million a year for 10 years to researchers developing viable new products. Its global advisory board includes Steven Chu, the former U.S. Secretary of Energy, and Jeremy Oppenheim, program chair of the New Climate Economy project.
Carbon Brief spoke to Dr. Issam Dairanieh, the company's CEO, about his idea to tackle climate change through CO2 reuse. He explained what carbon capture and usage is, and how it could play a role in future efforts to reduce emissions:
"The idea here is go with what we call 'carbon negative technologies.' So think of trees on steroids. That's really what it is. So it is acceleration absorption of CO2 converted into products. Nature does it, does it very well, but does it slowly, and our solution says let's see what nature does, and do that extremely fast. So, instead of years, we want to do that in minutes. And the idea here is really all about developing and commercializing technologies that can absorb CO2 and convert it into useful products."
He spoke about the products that can be made using CO2 and their potential reduce emissions:
"The first product that we are going to invest in is making cement. So think about cement and concrete and how much is produced. It is probably the material that has the highest amount of any material that man makes, basically. Just this product contributes over 7 percent of the global emissions of CO2. We have identified a company that produces cement and concrete at a carbon footprint 70 percent less than what's currently done. So imagine what we can do with this. If you can replace everything we're doing right now with this new type of cement material, you will reduce global emissions by 5 percent, which is significant. What we have set out to do is, we said we want to reduce carbon emissions by 10 percent a year. That's really our objective. And we think that just by adopting one technology we will be able to reduce it by half of our target."
He talked about how best to capture CO2 emissions to be used in products:
"Where we're going to start is where it's very easy to do so. So, if you go to power plants, CO2 is mixed with other things. The concentration can be anywhere between 3 percent and 12 percent, maybe 13 percent, but that's about it. However, if you go to different places, in a refinery where hydrogen is generated using something called methane reforming, when you do that, you generate pure CO2 that's just emitted. We think there is 100, 200 million tons of that that we can go to. The second area is if you look at how biofuels are made, when you ferment basically biomass and you end up with ethanol that's used in biofuels. As a byproduct, you get a stream which is 100 percent CO2, so you don't have to concentrate, you don't have to purify—it's there."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Carbon Brief.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.