EarthLabs > Climate and the Carbon Cycle: Unit Overview > Lab 8: Balancing the Carbon Cycle: Finding Solutions with Technology > 8A: Design and Technology: It all starts with an idea!

Balancing the Carbon Cycle: Finding Solutions with Technology

Part A: Carbon Reduction Technology: It All Starts with an Idea!

In Lab 3C, you looked for ways to reduce your carbon footprint. In other words, you were identifying personal strategies for you and your family to reduce the amount of carbon emissions going into the atmosphere. What role, if any, can innovation and technology play in carbon reduction? Will new technologies provide solutions that really work and are cost effective?

Remember, that technology refers to the application of scientific knowledge to some practical purpose and can include applied processes and practices in addition to machines and other technological devices. For example, in Lab 4A, you were introduced to a change in agricultural practice developed by British ecologist Mike Hand that shifts away from slash and burning farming. This one change in practice has great potential to reduce the amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere. Thus, carbon reduction technology sould include practices such as reforestation and new forms of agriculture in addition to technological approaches like designing and building electric cars and wind turbines.


What is carbon reduction technology?

There are two basic strategies in carbon reduction technology:

1. Develop technology that reduces the amount of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere.

2. Develop technology that removes carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere.

Reducing atmospheric CO2is indeed a complex problem - one that will most likely need many different strategies and technologies. For example, consider the image above. The wind turbines reduce carbon dioxide emissions by providing an energy source that does not burn fossil fuels. The artificial trees, a new emerging technology, would remove carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere. Wind turbines are familiar and have been around for many years but where did the idea of artificial trees come from? Like any technological design, artificial trees began with good observations and an idea. The hard work begins when trying to turn the idea into a design that works.

Emerging Carbon Reduction Technology: Artificial Trees

Watch how a middle school student's idea leads to a technological design for artificial (synthetic) trees in this NovaScienceNow video: Carbon Capture As you watch the video, take notes on the questions below. Your teacher may assign a specific question to your group.

Discussion:

In your group or class, discuss the answers to the questions above. Then, identify and discuss any pros or cons that might be associated with the technology of "artificial trees." Is this just an interesting idea, or is it a solution that could actually help to reduce atmospheric CO2? What do you think?

Current carbon reduction technology: Carbon capture and sequestration(storage)


Next, consider carbon capture and sequestration (storage) technology depicted in the image on the right. This type of carbon reduction technology captures carbon dioxide at its source and stores it somewhere else. A good example is carbon dioxide that is captured from a power plant and then stored underground in rock. Are there pros and cons with this type of carbon reduction technology? To find out, read about various carbon reduction strategies in the NovaScienceNow interactive Where Do We Put the Carbon As you go through the interactive, make note of the pros (potential benefits) and cons (potential drawbacks/unknowns) of each different carbon reduction approach.

Discussion

With a partner or a group, identify two carbon capture technologies from the interactive that have the best potential to be viable solutions for carbon reduction. Explain why you have chosen them.

Visionary Carbon Reduction Technology: Algae Towers

Read about and see a slideshow on architects' visions to create carbon reducing Algae Towers

Do you think you will experience this technology in your life time? Why or why not?

Discussion

Imagine that you worked for a government or organization that was going to invest in a new technology which would reduce CO2in the atmosphere? What criteria would you apply in your decision-making process?

  • With your group and/or class, brainstorm a list of criteria that will help you decide. What potential benefits would you like to see in this technology and what potential drawbacks would you like to avoid?
  • Use your list to help you in the performance assessment in Lab 8B where you will take on the role of a blogger who has been asked to identify and evaluate a promising carbon reduction technology. Good luck!

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