Developments to Watch
A MINERAL ANTIDOTE TO GLOBAL WARMING
NO ONE IS SURE JUST HOW serious the "greenhouse effect" is. But if scientists conclude that a further buildup of carbon dioxide gas in the atmosphere will cause a big increase in global temperatures, a Los Alamos National Laboratory team stands ready with a costly but effective solution.
Los Alamos physicist Klaus S. Lackner says it should be possible to separate carbon dioxide gas out of the smoke from fossil-fuel-burning plants, and then mix it with certain minerals such as magnesium oxide or calcium oxide, probably at high temperatures. Carbon in the gas would permanently bind to the minerals, keeping it out of the atmosphere. Lackner estimates it would cost about 5 cents to soak up the carbon dioxide formed in the production of a single kilowatt-hour of electricity--figuring in everything from construction of treatment plants to mining and crushing the mixing ores. That's equal to the roughly 5 cents per kilowatt-hour to produce the electricity in the first place.
Still, that would be cheap if the alternative is having the polar ice sheets melt and flood coastal cities from New York to Tokyo. Says Lackner: "I view this as an insurance policy." A scholarly paper on the subject has been accepted by Energy, the International Journal.EDITED BY NEIL GROSS