October 7, 2011
The Business of Cooling the Planet
This article from the October 17 issue of Fortune describes the some of the efforts at geo-engineering – defined as “deliberate, large-scale interventions in the earth’s climate system intended to prevent climate change and its repercussions.” Bill Gates has become the world’s leading funder of research into geo-engineering. As noted in this article, the best-known set of geo-engineering technologies is known as solar radiation management, which is designed to shield the earth from sunlight by injecting particles into the stratosphere or spraying seawater into marine clouds. Another possible approach is to build many thousands of big machines to remove carbon dioxide from the air. There is renewed interest in geo-engineering, given that global emissions have risen by 40 percent since 1990, notwithstanding the Kyoto Protocol and various international efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions. While carbon capture is technically feasible, the issue is scaling the technology up in a cost-effective manner. For carbon capture businesses to be successful any time soon, the cost for pulling carbon out of the air will need to fall well below $100 per ton of CO2 and most likely below $50 per ton, according to the Fortune article. Many scientists think carbon capture will cost far more, as much as $600 per ton. So there is much work to be done. That the subject has attracted the interest of Bill Gates and other entrepreneurs suggests the urgency of the need to develop the technology, and the prospects of making a lot of money if the research proves to be successful.