It’s easy to get overwhelmed by bad news, especially if it seems the problem is so large that an individual has little ability to make a difference. That’s why I’m balancing information about the challenges we’re facing as the climate continues to change, with examples of ways we can mitigate or improve the situation. In this month’s grazier’s focus, I shared the practice of spreading compost as an easy way to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere, while making a difference to your bottom line. But other folks are working on solutions too. While you’re working on carbon farming, here are some breakthroughs from scientists and inventors.
Researchers have designed a fuel production system that uses water, carbon dioxide (CO2), and sunlight to produce aviation fuel. They have implemented the system in the field, and the design, publishing July 20 in the journal Joule, could help the aviation industry become carbon neutral.
“With our solar technology, we have shown that we can produce synthetic kerosene from water and CO2 instead of deriving it from fossil fuels,” says Aldo Stienfeld, the author of the paper on the work being done. “The amount of CO2 emitted during kerosene combustion in a jet engine equals that consumed during its production in the solar plant. That makes the fuel carbon neutral, especially if we use CO2 captured directly from the air as an ingredient, hopefully in the not-too-distant future.”
Direct air capture technology removes carbon dioxide from the air and compresses it for sequestration or utilization and promises to help us meet net-zero emissions goals. But the process can use a lot of energy and the large facilities necessary aren’t welcome in most communities. “It’s a huge problem because most everybody wants to fix the climate crisis, but nobody wants to do it in their backyard,” says co-author Geoffrey Ozin, a carbon dioxide utilization chemist and chemical engineer and director of the solar fuels group at the University of Toronto. “Rail-based direct air capture cars would not require zoning or building permits and would be transient and generally unseen by the public.”
These purpose-built train cars use large vents to intake air, which would eliminate the need for the energy-intensive fan systems that stationary direct air capture systems use. After a sufficient amount of carbon dioxide has been captured, the chamber is closed, and the harvested carbon dioxide is collected, concentrated, and stored in a liquid reservoir until it can be emptied from the train at crew-change or fueling stops for direct transportation into the circular carbon economy or to nearby geological sequestration sites. The carbon-dioxide-free air then travels out the back or underside of the car and returns into the atmosphere. The train’s braking system is used to supply the energy the train car needs to operate.
Just one freight train could remove 6,000 tonnes of CO2 per year at a cost of $50 per tonne, making it commercially feasible.
Roasting green chile is an important cultural touchstone for New Mexico, but it leads to a seasonal emission of approximately 7,800 metric tons of carbon dioxide — the equivalent of driving 1,700 cars for a year. Sandia National Laboratories engineer Kenneth Armijo, who grew up on a chile farm in Sabinal, located between Albuquerque and Socorro, New Mexico, thought there was a ‘greener’ way to roast green chile.
“The principle behind this research was to see if high-temperature food roasting, not just peppers, could be done with solar and produce comparable results as traditional propane roasting, and the answer is yes,” Armijo said. He even invited chile connoisseurs to compare solar roasted to propane roasted and the solar chiles came out on top. If the whole state of New Mexico switched to solar chile roasting, the annual net result would be the equivalent of planting 130,000 tree seedlings and letting them grow for 10 years.
In his day job, Armijo uses the power of the sun at Sandia’s National Solar Thermal Test Facility to explore new ways to capture the sun’s power for electricity and industrial process heat. So I’m betting he’ll have some more great discoveries for us in the future.
This is just a sampling of what comes across my desk every day as I read and look for information graziers need. Other solutions include improving plants’ ability to respond to a changing climate by creating varieties with roots that are better at penetrating drier soils, or are more salt tolerant varieties. It’s nice to know that there are folks out there coming up with all kinds of solutions for the climate challenges we face.
Support your scientists! 🙂