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Academic Minute

Dr. Klaus Lackner, Columbia University - Artificial Trees and Carbon Capture


Albany, NY – In today's Academic Minute, Dr. Klaus Lackner of Columbia University's Earth Institute explains his efforts to combat global warming by creating carbon-capturing artificial trees.

Klaus Lackner is the Ewing Worzel Professor of Geophysics at Columbia University and director of the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy at Columbia's Earth Institute. His research interests include carbon capture and sequestration, air capture, energy and environmental policy, and zero emission modeling for coal and cement plants. Lackner holds a Ph.D. in theoretical particle physics from Heidelberg University where he was awarded the Clemm-Haas Prize for his thesis.

About Dr. Lackner

Dr. Klaus Lackner - Artificial Trees and Carbon Capture

I and my colleagues work to improve the health of our planet with new technologies to stop global warming. The biggest contributor to global warming is carbon dioxide from burning coal, natural gas or oil. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, which means that it traps the heat from the sun, making the planet warmer. Just like the window of a car, it lets the sun shine in, but it doesn't let the heat escape. Cars get hot in the sunshine, and so does Earth. A little bit of carbon dioxide is a good thing, because otherwise the world would be frozen; too much of it, and it becomes too hot for people and for trees.

It is hard to stop greenhouse gas emissions; we need electricity, which is usually made with coal or natural gas. Whenever you heat your home, drive your car or fly in a plane, you are also emitting carbon dioxide. If we want to stop global warming, we need to stop these emissions, and we need to stop them now.

Trees remove carbon dioxide from the air. They are a big help in fighting climate change, but we overwhelm them with far too much carbon dioxide. The trees can barely capture it all; they certainly can't store it all. So maybe we can help the trees by building synthetic trees that are designed for maximum sucking power. The ones I am working on are a thousand times faster in removing carbon dioxide than real trees. Unlike real trees, however, they don't make wood out of the carbon dioxide; they give it to you in a form that can put away safely.

Artificial forests, maybe in the desert of Arizona, could capture all the carbon dioxide from cars and airplanes wherever they are. We still need green trees, which are pretty and clean up the air in the city. But carbon dioxide-sucking synthetic trees will help both people and real trees cope with global warming.

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