Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane, contribute to global warming by slowing the rate at which heat energy escapes into space. Although methane is less abundant than CO2, it is several times more potent, absorbing up to 36 times more energy than CO2 over a century. Last year marked the first time that global methane concentrations reached levels 2.5 times greater than pre-industrial concentrations.

Scientists at Stanford University are investigating the use of zeolite, a porous mineral, to absorb methane from the atmosphere. Their approach, however, is slightly controversial – upon capture, the methane will be heated and converted to CO2 which will then be released back into the atmosphere. The scientists argue that this trade-off may be worthwhile. Converting 3.2 billion tons of methane (of the 5.2 billion tons of methane currently in the atmosphere) to 8.2 billion tons of CO2 (the equivalent of a few months of industrial CO2 emissions) would reduce global warming by up to 17%.

Currently, efficient methane capture and conversion is not possible at an industrial scale. Before investing time and money into developing this technology, it will be important to evaluate feasibility and risk of further contributing to global warming. One could argue that this method merely shuffles around the problem, rather than addressing the underlying issue of increasing CO2 levels. Ultimately, this method should be combined with sustainable approaches for limiting additional CO2 emissions, such as the conversion of greenhouse gases into biofuels, if it is to have a lasting impact on reducing global warming.

Managing Correspondent: Jeremy Gungabeesoon

News Article: Scientists Propose a Wild Idea For Cleaning The Atmosphere, And It Would Mean More CO2. ScienceAlert

Original Article: Methane removal and atmospheric restoration. Nature Sustainability

Image Credit: Shutterstock

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