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posted 10/22/04

Contact: Katie Mastriani
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Wall Street Journal Reports Climate Change and Energy Problems "Not Hypothetical Issues for the Future"

Klaus Lackner, a physicist with the Earth Institute, is developing a prototype machine that would remove carbon dioxide directly from the air, called "synthetic trees," and shown in the computer-generated image above. Image © Stonehaven Productions

Antonio Regalado reported today in the Wall Street Journal that, “a growing chorus of scientists, environmentalists and large corporations now agree that to seriously address the world’s global-warming problem, a major technological shift is what the planet needs.”

The Journal reported that, “scientists at the Earth Institute, a research center at Columbia, don’t think these steps are going nearly far enough, or fast enough. China is expected to add immense new coal-burning capacity to meet its energy needs, but if it builds conventional plants they will only add to climate problems for decades."

"These are not hypothetical issues for the future," economist Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute, was reported as saying.

The article reported that, “governments and industry around the world are pursuing two technological tracks for fossil fuels. One is aimed at improving efficiency, reducing the amount of fossil fuel that has to be burned. The other is to find a way to safely dispose of the huge amounts of C02 that still will be produced, before those gases waft up into the atmosphere.”

One of several ideas being developed at the Earth Institute and the one most heavily reported on in this article is a prototype machine that would remove carbon dioxide directly from the air. This idea is being developed by Klaus Lackner, a physicist with the Earth Institute.

As reported in this article, Lackner came upon the idea of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by combining it with minerals. Says the article, “Nature already performs a similar task, albeit at a slow pace, as air moves over the surface of the Earth. C02 in the air reacts with some minerals to form carbonates, such as soda ash. Lackner believes if the reaction was sped up, it could be used to capture large amounts of carbon pollution inside rocks, which could then be disposed of by dumping them down mineshafts.”

“What’s special about this [carbon storage] technology is that no one has really worked on it,” Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute, was quoted as saying. “There hasn’t been any intrinsic interest in managing carbon, because CO2 is harmless, odorless, and uninteresting from every point of view except that it could wreck the global environment.”

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is the world’s leading academic center for the integrated study of Earth, its environment and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines—earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences—and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through research, training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world’s poor.