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The Almighty Buck Businesses Science

$25M Bounty Offered for Global Warming Fix 766

SaDan writes "Richard Branson is offering $25M as a bounty for a fix to global warming. The person or organization that can devise a method to remove at least a billion tons of carbon dioxide a year from the atmosphere will be able to claim the bounty. There are a few catches, of course. There can't be any negative impact on the environment, and the payment will come in chunks. A 5 million dollar payout will be paid when the system is put into place with the remainder of the bounty to be paid after 10 years of continuous use."
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$25M Bounty Offered for Global Warming Fix

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  • Re:Plant Respiration (Score:2, Interesting)

    by xtracto ( 837672 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @05:45PM (#17954664) Journal
    Either that or find a way to build large scale air scrubbers that simulate plant respiration (stripping the carbon atom off a CO2 molecule and releasing O2), then compress the pure carbon into bricks for use in industry. If it could be done cheaply enough it might not just be eco-friendly, but profitable as well, with the $25 million payment as a bonus.

    That is something I have always thought since I was a little kid. Humans do this kind of thing *every* day. Every "invention" we have is a revised,accelerated, optimized and controlled process that the nature already did. I have always wondered why isnt it possible to isolate the parts of the plants that do the C and O2 separation and do it artificially. That way we could *unpollute* the planet.

  • by Radon360 ( 951529 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @05:50PM (#17954790)

    Trees....lots of trees.
    Solar powered. Self-sustaining, self-propagating...pretty much self-everything.

    It's pretty obvious to do any carbon dioxide scrubbing on a large scale, it's going to require a process that requires as little artificially-induced energy input as possible.

    How about large saltwater algae beds in arid regions adjacent to the ocean? Harvest the algae, press out the plant oil, and make biodiesel. Algae is probably the most efficient crop for something like this.

  • by Anon-Admin ( 443764 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @05:52PM (#17954852) Journal
    It is in the top 10 for CO2 fixation! It has over 25,000 uses of which smoking it is just 1!

    We can make cloths, shoes, rope, cardboard, paper, and other goods from the fibers.
    We can make bread, cooking oil, ethanol, bio diesel, and bird food from the seeds.
    We can smoke the buds to relax.

    Problem solved! We just plant it everywhere! Along the roads, in the unused fields, around the government buildings, just everywhere. No more global warming!

    Interesting how the CO2 levels started to rise just after the government banned growing it!

    We can also reduce the "War on Drugs" budget and redirect it to research on global warming. There is an instant $6,000,000,000 per year to find alternate energy sources. :)

    Problem solved, now take that $25,000,000 prize and give it to the Marc Emery defiance fund. [cannabisculture.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 09, 2007 @05:54PM (#17954924)
    Humans only contribute < 3% to the world's greenhouse gases!

    "Are humans causing the climate to change?

    98% of total global greenhouse gas emissions are natural (mostly water vapor); only 2% are from man-made sources." - http://www.polymath-systems.com/pubpol/globwarm.ht ml [polymath-systems.com]

    Many other sources have similar figures.
  • by stratjakt ( 596332 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @05:58PM (#17955020) Journal
    The "war on drugs" budget is small, the DEA is almost entirely funded by "civil forfeiture", the completely fair idea that if you are caught selling a bag of pot, then everything you own (car, house, photo album handed down from grandma) must have been the proceeds of your drug dealing, and deserve to be taken away and auctioned. Even if falsely accused, and acquitted, getting it back is nearly impossible.

    But, people watched "Scarface" in the 80s, and said "WOW thats how drug dealers live? ferrari's and mansions? fuck that!", so here we are.

    There's too much money involved there. You could tax marijuana to high hell, and still not generate the same amount of income. This is what the "war on drugs" is.
  • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @06:00PM (#17955066)
    Why not just dispense with the whole "convert CO2 to carbon and oxygen" and just use nuclear as a direct power source? We already know how to do that, quite well in fact. So if nuclear is the answer, why not just use it?

    My point isn't that there aren't energy alternatives, it's that there's not a real reason to do the CO2 -> C + O2 thing.
  • The Tree Answer (Score:2, Interesting)

    by doroshjt ( 1044472 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @06:14PM (#17955366)
    A single mature tree can absorb carbon dioxide at a rate of 48 lbs./year and release enough oxygen back into the atmosphere to support 2 human beings. So my math might be bad but thats, roughly .0225 Tons a year, so you'd need about 2.25 * 10^11 trees in your $25 million dollar forest. Source: McAliney, Mike. Arguments for Land Conservation:Documentation and Information Sources for Land Resources Protection, Trust for Public Land, Sacramento, CA, December, 1993
  • by jimicus ( 737525 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @06:14PM (#17955400)
    Don't know if you realise this, but a very similar solution to a very different problem was proposed a few centuries ago:

    http://art-bin.com/art/omodest.html [art-bin.com]

    (Read it through. It's worth it)
  • by arachnoprobe ( 945081 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @06:15PM (#17955424)

    Well, yes. Seems even the environmentalists are agreeing with that. I would say sequestering radioactive waste underground would be a lot better than releasing tons of carbon into the atmosphere. And the new reactor designs are meltdown resistant and far more safer than the old ones.
    Most of the radioactive waste is actually not waste and can be reused, and sequestering waste in old salt mines is really safe. Kind of a SciFi alternative would be to launch it into the sun, but I don't know if that is possible. Scientists already proposed that it could be possible to convert the Uranium into Iodide - but because of political reasons they got cut down on their funding.
  • Re:Plant Respiration (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hypnagogue ( 700024 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @06:17PM (#17955474)
    You are mistaking trees as a carbon scrubber. They are not machines that clean CO2 out of the air -- they are carbon sinks, converting airborne CO2 into cellulose. The best thing you can do is cut down the trees, dry them out, and store the wood in a cool, dry place. One mechanism for this is by framing houses out of the wood. Then, plant another tree in it's place. As it grows it will pull CO2 out of the air. Then, when it's growth slows, cut it down, turn it into lumber, build another house out of it, and plant yet another tree in it's place. So long as the wood doesn't rot (and the house stands), the carbon dioxide will not return to the carbon cycle.

    I repeat: cut down trees and build houses out of them. Letting trees decay in the forest is bad for the environment.
  • by Peter Trepan ( 572016 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @06:18PM (#17955490)

    Interesting how the CO2 levels started to rise just after the government banned growing it!

    I thought it was due to a decrease in the number of pirates [wikipedia.org].

    Seriously, dude. Arguments about global warming and scratchy hemp shirts aren't nearly as good as the argument that it's just none of anyone's damn business what you smoke.

  • Re:Plant Respiration (Score:4, Interesting)

    by stratjakt ( 596332 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @06:28PM (#17955718) Journal
    Algae goes wild when you dump fertilizers in a stream, and can utterly choke off all life in a river or lake. I'd be very very wary about any plans to grow it "en masse" in the ocean, seems like the type of thing that'd easily get away from you.
  • Re:The Tree Answer (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dachannien ( 617929 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @06:39PM (#17955920)
    Interesting. If you allow 25 square meters per tree, it would take an area roughly the size of Texas and California combined to provide enough trees to absorb a billion tons of CO2 each year.

  • by ejamie ( 765128 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @06:44PM (#17956002) Journal
    1) Why not create huge 30' tall, 100' wide air air filters? These can be hung between large buildings downtown or attached to blimps and used to "scrape" contaminants out of the air.

    2) Or, have a huge turbines, like those used to generate electricity. Then, take these turbines and attach air purifiers to them. All the air which moves through is then removed of particulates. This large sucking action would particularly work in smoggy areas like L.A.

    3) Or, have huge green nets. Just like the nets you use to clean out an aquarium. But, with very fine netting that removes particulates. Use these nets to "scoop out" the bad air. :-)
  • by angrymilkman ( 957626 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @06:48PM (#17956054) Homepage
    fire it into the sun?? what if the rocket explodes like the challenger and we get showered by highly nuclear waste?
  • Ridiculous PR Stunt (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mpapet ( 761907 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @07:08PM (#17956418) Homepage
    It's been a while since I've done these calculations, but I think the present value of the so-called $25 million bounty is $6.2 million with the payment schedule given. That's what $25 million with the payments laid out as proposed is worth today at 4% return.

    We don't pay anyone already producing lots of oxygen with their undeveloped lands, why would anyone buy the earth-saving properties of the as-yet unmade device?

    Not only is the bounty $6.2 million, but the innovator doesn't appear to have any kind of way to sustain the earth-saving properities of this device.

    This is an example of why we are in what most indicators suggest is a global warming scenario of our own making.

    Despite what the popular political opinion attempts to have us believe, So-called "Free-markets" do not accomodate the health and general well-being of humans or their environment.

    Discuss amongst yourselves

  • Re:Plant Respiration (Score:2, Interesting)

    by kfg ( 145172 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @07:08PM (#17956424)
    I came to this story to say "Plant more trees. Where's my 25 mil?," but first frickin' post got the answer. We can all go home now.

    Or perhaps the money could be donated to Arun Ghandi's foundation, since it was his grandfather who said that India's future could be assured if every individual planted a single tree and cared for it to maturity. This would cost nothing. Trees grow on trees. I don't know how things are handled now, but back in the 50's and 60's planting a tree from seed was a part of every child's education, perhaps all we need do is take that process seriously. Back then the American Dustbowl was still fresh in the mind of many Americans, caused largely by the overharvesting of trees on the already arid great plains.

    Remember Arbor Day? We actually used to observe that. An early settler in Nebraska relized that the way to transform the desert of the great plains (yes, the great plains are a desert, that's why basically only grass grows there and even Native Americans considered it an unlivable wasteland suitlable only for the summer buffalo hunt) into something permanantly settleable was simply to plant trees to break the scope of the wind, preventing the blowing away of tilled soil.

    Later generations cut them down again. Ta Da! Instant Dustbowl the second there was as bit of a drought. So we planted more trees again. This story was taught and the trees planted at about the third grade.

    Now we've cut them all down again for the benefit of the large farming conglomerates (it wastes time driving harvesters around trees). We never learn. If the irrigation ever fails, for any reason, it will happen again and people will die by the millions.

    So how many trees could we plant for $25 mil? All of them. It doesn't take money, something we actually have a lot of, it takes caring about it, something which we're a bit short of.

    Ok, let us, however, take the availability of Branson's money at face value and look at the question from a slightly different perspective. How many trees could you plant if you had an income of a couple mil a year to plant trees? Rather a lot I think. You might even spend some of your time inspiring other people to plant trees and multiply the effect.

    A couple mil a year is what you would have as unearned income on 25 mil. You could carry eveything you needed on a bicycle, although you would have enough money to drive an Aston-Martin and spend every night in a four star hotel if you wished. That might be a bit bad for the PR though.

    So, Branson, here's what you do, put the money in a trust and hire someone with the unearned income to become a modern Johnny Appleseed. I'm available. I'd be damned good at it. Although four star hotels actually give me the creeps (at least the American variety) I wouldn't mind the Aston-Martin.

    Although I'd be perfectly willing to settle for a Bob Jackson or a Cinelli.

  • Re:Plant Respiration (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SiliconEntity ( 448450 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @07:40PM (#17956874)
    "C'mon, $25 million is nothing compared to something like global warming. If global warming could really be solved for $25 million someone would have done it by now."

    Not necessarily. You can't make money by solving global warming because there is no one who will pay you for your technology. The benefits from reducing CO2 are spread out among everyone on earth and are too diffuse for conventional market rewards.

    Only if we create a global system for carbon credit trading, or apply mandates to force people to reduce their carbon output, would such an invention become profitable. In the current situation you could come up with a brilliant idea but have no way to profit from it. Branson's offer could help to jump-start innovation that would otherwise not be profitable.
  • Re:Plant Respiration (Score:5, Interesting)

    by reverseengineer ( 580922 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @07:45PM (#17956946)
    Warning: back-of-envelope calculations follow. The bond energy of the two carbon-oxygen double bonds in carbon dioxide is about 374 kilocalories per mole of carbon dioxide. At 44 grams CO2 to a mole, a billion tons of carbon dioxide (using 1000kg=ton) is on the order of 2x10^13 moles. This would require 3x10^13 megajoules of energy, which to provide in one year (31556926 seconds) would demand 950 gigawatts of power, which will undoubtedly require more than 25 million dollars to generate. This assumes perfect efficiency in the process, of course, and does not factor in any carbon dioxide released in the generation of that much power.

    The reason this process works so well in plants is that frankly, that's not how it works in plants at all. While photosynthesis involves the net breakdown of carbon dioxide and water to form oxygen and glucose, it's a complex set of separate, but connected reactions, rather than just using sunlight to blast oxygen atoms off carbon dioxide. For instance, the oxygen produced doesn't come from carbon dioxide- it comes from water split by sunlight, with the help of an enzyme. The carbon dioxide that enters plants is never actually split apart- it's simply fixed into an organic molecule, and used to generate a glucose precursor. Breaking down carbon dioxide to its component elements is simply too energy intensive.

    I suppose that's an idea though- if there were a catalyst that could fix carbon dioxide into an organic molecule, and do so at reasonable conditions of temperature and pressure, it might provide a useful way of recycling carbon. For example, if you could react carbon dioxide with methane to produce acetic acid, you could pull two greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and use them to make an industrial product (and one which could be conceivably then be used as a feedstock for plastics and fuels). Currently, this process uses carbon monoxide and methanol (made from steam reforming of methane, actually), in the presence of a metal catalyst- it seems like it could be done with CO2 and methane instead. Even if the economics might not be as favorable, the benefit in sequestering greenhouse gases might be worth it.

  • Re:Plant Respiration (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jfern ( 115937 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @07:48PM (#17956990)
    Not going to work AEP has planted 21,914 acres with nearly 19 million mixed hardwood and conifer trees at a cost of approximately $5.7 million. Projected CO2 sequestration is 4.7 million metric tons over the term of the project. Link [e8.org]
  • Re:I'm sure we could (Score:5, Interesting)

    by yog ( 19073 ) * on Friday February 09, 2007 @07:51PM (#17957038) Homepage Journal
    Put a couple thousand square miles of solar cells out in the desert, and for every megawatt they generate, reduce coal/gas/oil energy production by that much.

    Install wind generators up and down the coast, and similarly replace coal.

    Use some of this energy to create hydrogen from coal, and use that to power automotive fuel cells.

    Mandate (and pay for) bicycle lanes on every thoroughfare in every city. Offer health insurance discounts to people who bike to work most of the time. Make biking a safe, cheap, and convenient way to travel and people will use it.

    Implement modern, safer nuclear technology. Rocket the waste into the Sun, or maybe dump it on the Moon or a passing asteroid.

    Create solar powered ozone production plants with 5-mile-high smokestacks to replenish the earth's O3 layer.

    How do we pay for all this? Halt the war in Iraq, and use the hundreds of billions we save from that. Also, exploit space; send robot mining ships to obtain 10000-ton platinum and gold asteroids and the like; one or two of these will pay for everything.
  • Re:Plant Respiration (Score:5, Interesting)

    by grcumb ( 781340 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @08:31PM (#17957448) Homepage Journal

    Mass genocide of all developing countries humans then use that now vacant land to plant the trees.
    Your idea has merit, but it would be far, far more efficient to kill the rich, as we spew out orders of magnitude more pollution per capita than the poor.

    Don't think we haven't thought of this....


    The Developing World

  • by Dun Malg ( 230075 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @11:00PM (#17958780) Homepage

    Going to nuclear is only a transformation of waste. Simply this is a shift in waste not a solution. Then suddenly its no longer CO2 but it is some radioactive stuff that needs to be buried for thousends of years underground. One might store CO2 in the first place underground and skip the expensive uranium in between. Remember uranium isn't an endless power solution either, thats why we try to research fusion. Uranium is a limited feul on earth.
    Current estimated accessible uranium reserves are enough to last approximately 500 years, at the current rate of consumption. If all electricity production (hydro and other "clean" power included) was converted to nuclear, there'd still be enough for nearly 80 years. This is assuming the current wasteful method of not reprocessing fuel. Waste reprocessing, which itself generates energy, would increase the fuel utility by a factor of 10, and would eliminate nuclear waste entirely. In short, we have enough fuel to run fission reactors in place of all the conventional CO2 generating power plants for over 1000 years. Fuel is not the problem. The problem is enviro/peacenik whackos who conflate nuclear weapons with nuclear power and tar them all with the same brush. People like that create a groundswell of popular ignorance that leads to things like Jimmy Carter signing an executive order banning the building of ALL breeder reactors. A particular type of breeder reactor is used to make weapons-grade plutonium. Fuel reprocessing breeder reactors, however, create an inseperable mix of plutonium that is utterly unusable as a weapon. Now why Carter, a trained nuclear engineer, would ban all breeder reactors is a question with only two possible answers: a) the man's an idiot and faked his way through school, or b) he was making a purely symbolic, political gesture. The issue of nuclear power has been thoroughly politicized, to the point where it's hardly about science anymore.

    The best things here would be a natural energy source.
    All energy sources are natural, from water running downhill, to hydrocarbons combusting, to atoms splitting. You can't apply a "back to nature" philosophy to the production of energy!
  • Re:Plant Respiration (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Apu ( 325126 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @11:57PM (#17959150)

    I suppose that's an idea though- if there were a catalyst that could fix carbon dioxide into an organic molecule, and do so at reasonable conditions of temperature and pressure, it might provide a useful way of recycling carbon. For example, if you could react carbon dioxide with methane to produce acetic acid, you could pull two greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and use them to make an industrial product (and one which could be conceivably then be used as a feedstock for plastics and fuels). Currently, this process uses carbon monoxide and methanol (made from steam reforming of methane, actually), in the presence of a metal catalyst- it seems like it could be done with CO2 and methane instead. Even if the economics might not be as favorable, the benefit in sequestering greenhouse gases might be worth it.
    Question... Did you think of this idea before the back of envelopes calculations or after? Because, if after, than the bounty is already doing its thing. Whether or not your particular idea is really feasible isn't the key -- as others have pointed out, it would probably take more money to make sure every idea was really feasible. The bounty is making people think of things they didn't think about before and imagine the possibilities. "Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere." - Carl Sagan
  • Re:Plant Respiration (Score:3, Interesting)

    by balloonhead ( 589759 ) <doncuan&yahoo,com> on Saturday February 10, 2007 @05:06AM (#17960992)
    Global warming
    -> increased sea levels
    -> increased sea surface area
    -> increased algae (maybe)
    -> ....
    -> profit!!!

    I suppose if all the planet's covered in water ,the algae will sort out the greenhouse thing, then the ice caps will reform, and things will return to normal.
  • by Darby ( 84953 ) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @06:34AM (#17961336)
    Heh. I wish it were so, but the invisible hand of the market tends to focus on 'cheaply' unless you regulate the f*** out of the market - at which point the government might as well just do the business itself.

    Not necessarily. You can get by with minimal regulations as long as the penalties for failure to abide by the regulations are sky high.

    Take everybody's favorite whipping boy Microsoft. They regularly steal other people's shit...ok, violate their copyrights.. gotta keep it on the level ;-). They make (please do not touch or smell the following numbers for your own sake.) a billion on it and get fined a million. And that's only when it's so clear cut that the little guy can go against their army of lawyers. They have an incentive to break the law in that situation and they know it well.

    Similarly with just about anything else. It isn't the laws that stop a sociopath (all corporations are) from doing something it's the penalties if they get caught.

  • Re:I'm sure we could (Score:3, Interesting)

    by c6gunner ( 950153 ) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @07:57AM (#17961694)
    Spending a 10th of what you currently spend would give you a military of 300,000 tops, including active, reserve, and national guard. Compare that to China's 6 million active and reserve.

    The biggest problem with a massive decrease would be exactly what people bitch about these days. When you finally DID end up mobilizing your military, you'd have to recruit like mad and re-instate the draft. This would lead to a decrease in level of training and professionalism, which would result in an increase in crimes and human rights abuses as well as a major increase in US casualties. Lower budget also means less equipment and less R&D, so your new draftees would be going to war without all the fancy weapons and armour that we're used to these days, and their technology would at best be on-par with your enemies, if not a couple generations behind them.

    Decreasing the military only seems like a good idea until you actually have to go to war. Then everyone's pointing fingers trying to blame someone else for endangering the nation.

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