A new study published in Nature Sustainability on May 20 offers a perhaps surprising solution for climate change: changing methane into carbon dioxide. But wait, you ask, don’t we already have way, way too much carbon dioxide as it is? Well, yes, but it all comes down to the greenhouse gases’ warming capability – and methane has a much more potent warming capability than carbon dioxide.
The study comes from researchers at Stanford who say that converting methane into CO2 would result in a net reduction of warming capacity for greenhouse gases overall. "An alternative is to offset these emissions via methane removal, so there is no net effect on warming the atmosphere," said study coauthor Chris Field, the Perry L. McCarty Director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.
Methane is 84 times more potent than CO2 in its warming capacity over the first 20 years after its release and much of it comes from agriculture or livestock farming. Because roughly 60% of methane is generated by humans, some scientists see the reduction of it as a bright light in an otherwise dim tunnel. "If perfected, this technology could return the atmosphere to pre-industrial concentrations of methane and other gases," said lead author Rob Jackson, the Michelle and Kevin Douglas Provostial Professor in Earth System Science in Stanford's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences.
Following the study’s results, methane concentrations could be restored to pre-industrial levels by removing about 3.2 billion tons of the gas from the atmosphere and converting it into an amount of carbon dioxide equivalent to a few months of global industrial emissions. This would be done using large contraptions full of zeolites, crystalline material that made up of aluminum, silicon and oxygen, that can essentially soak up methane from the atmosphere. Once captured, the methane would be heated to be converted into CO2 and then released back into the atmosphere. The researchers say this strategy has the potential to eradicate about one-sixth of all causes of global warming.
The authors of the study view their technology as a complementary approach to strategies for reducing carbon emissions and increasing carbon sequestration. In addition to greatly reducing global warming, the researchers say the process of converting methane to carbon dioxide could be profitable and that every ton of methane removed from the atmosphere could be valued at $12,000.
Sources: Science Daily, Nature Sustainability