Intro to CTO Design Challenge: “Saving the Planet by Capturing Carbon”

A Conversation with Greg McRae, Executive Director, Morgan Stanley, and Hoyt C. Hottel Professor of Chemical Engineering; hosted by Larry Smarr, Director, California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), UC San Diego and Irvine;

CTOs will take on the challenge of solving climate change through carbon capturing in the next 48 hours. Greg McRae will serve as an outside expert.

30 billion tons of CO2 are being dumped into the air every year. By 2050, that number will double. Developing countries will continue to improve standards of living through the creation of energy. If we want to keep temperature growth down to 2 degrees, we’ll need to bring that 60 billion tons of CO2 down to 15.

Challenge in communicating with people is to help them understand through translation into numbers that the average joe can understand.

CO2 primarily comes from the combustion of fossil fuels — coal, oil and natural gas. We’ll need to tackle very different economic sectors — transportation, heating and electricity.

Average age of power plants is about 37 years, so the time scale of replacing them, even with the magic bullet, becomes a problem. Dealing with CO2 at levels we’re talking about, we’ll have to ramp up logistics by a factor of four.

What would need to be done to limit ppm to just 550 ppm (We’re now at 400), we would need to expand natural gas productions by two times.

People in the audience have built very large corporations, think they have enormous amount to contribute to devising a solution for these problems.

What should we be thinking about to capture and sequester carbon?

Biological — ocean sequestration, forestation, biochar

Physical/chemical — gathered at the source, entropically difficult, changing radiation balance, reduce solar radiation

Economically driven — efficiency gains, etc

No silver bullet; we’ve got to think about all of these. Currently missing is how to sort out which solutions make sense.

Advantages of capturing CO2, rather than sequestering after it’s mixed with the rest of the air.

Thermodynamically very difficult to capture CO2.

China has a huge problem and want their children to have safe air to breathe. Making carbon sequestration personal.

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