Using CO2 in products to help reduce the climate change contribution of the greenhouse gas | Michigan Radio
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Using CO2 in products to help reduce the climate change contribution of the greenhouse gas

May 17, 2021

Lansing BLW smokestacks known locally as Winken, Blinken, and Nod because of the flashing lights atop the stacks.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Researchers at the University of Michigan are looking at how willing the public is to accept using carbon dioxide emissions in products. There are cases where capturing CO2 emissions could be used to make other products such as fuel or the carbon dioxide in your soft drink.

While people are not as keen about using CO2 emissions from a smokestack to carbonate their Coca-Cola, they do see the practicality of how carbon dioxide could be used in ways better than seeing it increase the amount of greenhouse gases causing climate change.

“Instead of just extracting and throwing away, how can we better live in more sustainable ways by reusing everything that we have touched before?” asks Volker Sick, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan.

He says as renewable energy sources such as wind and solar become cheaper and more widespread, making fuel out of CO2 emissions that come from using petroleum for plastics or natural gas for agricultural products, cuts down on relying on extracted fuels exclusively for fuel.

Sick adds: rather than using expensive means to sequester CO2 underground, it can be used in products that will permanently trap the pollutant.

“When you introduce it into a concrete mix, it actually undergoes a chemical reaction and it turns into a rock, so you cannot bubble out no matter how small you break apart the concrete material, it will stay there as a rock,” Sick explained.

In an article published online by The Conversation, Sick and his colleagues note that carbon capture and utilization “could take up billions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions if the technologies were adopted across a range of sectors worldwide.”

It's not without economic costs. Fuel might be priced a few cents a gallon higher and other products, depending on the process, could cost twice as much. But in the scheme of global warming, they argue, these are not extravagant costs.

Finding economic value in carbon dioxide uses will aid nature in trapping CO2 because at this point human activities are producing about five times more than nature alone can handle.