Slowing Down an Amplifying Greenhouse Effect

Part A: Using Technology to Reduce CO2 in the Atmosphere

In Lab 3, you learned that increasing carbon dioxide emissions are creating an amplified greenhouse effect which in turn is leading to a warmer atmosphere. In addition to reducing our use of fossil fuels, innovative design and technology have the potential to play a major role in slowing climate change caused by an amplified greenhouse effect. Some of the key questions that drive the development of innovation and design are:

  • How can we use innovation and technology to decrease CO2 emissions to the atmosphere?
  • How can we use innovation and technology to reduce the amount of CO2 already there?
  • What new technologies provide solutions that are viable, sustainable, and cost effective?

Carbon reduction technology can include many different types of innovative technological designs and practices

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 5A, you were introduced to new agricultural practices many ranchers and farmers are using to make carbon-rich soil. This one change in agricultural practice has great potential to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Thus, carbon reduction technology should include practices such as reforestation and new forms of agriculture in addition to technological approaches like designing and building electric cars and wind turbines and creating new biofuels.

There are two basic strategies in carbon reduction technology:

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

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

Reducing atmospheric CO2 is indeed a complex problem, one that will most likely need many different technological designs and practices. For example, consider the image above. The wind turbines reduce carbon dioxide emissions by providing an energy source that does not burn fossil fuels, while 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.

Artificial trees are an example of a technology designed to remove CO2 from the air

  1. Watch how a middle school student's idea leads to a technological design for artificial (synthetic) trees in this NovaScienceNow video: Carbon Capture.
  2. As you watch the video, take notes on the questions below. Your teacher may assign a specific question to your group.
    • What was the initial idea?
    • How does the design work to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?
    • As the designers moved from the initial idea to a development phase, what worked and what didn't? Did the design change in any way?
    • Was the design process finished by the end of the video, or was the design still in the development phase?
    • Was there an energy penalty for this design? In other words, was the amount of carbon dioxide reduction greater or less than the amount of energy needed to run the process and/or create the product?
    • What's the cost?


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 for helping reduce atmospheric CO2? What do you think?

Carbon capture and storage is an example of a technology that prevents CO2 from going into the atmosphere

Most long-term global energy forecasts predict ongoing emissions, as well as a continued reliance on fossil fuels, until at least mid-century. In 2018, the IPCC issued a special report highlighting the fact that large-scale deployment of various carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) technologies will be necessary, along with a lowering of emissions, in order to achieve stabilization of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.

  1. Consider carbon capture and storage technology depicted in the image on the right. This type of carbon reduction technology captures carbon dioxide at its source and sequesters it in geological formations deep underground. One well-known example is Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR). Carbon dioxide is captured at a drilling rig, which is then injected into the oil reservoir for long-term storage. This technology, used by oil companies since the mid-1980s, enables extraction of hard-to-get oil underground as the injected CO2 displaces it. What are some possible pros (potential benefits) and cons (potential drawbacks/unknowns) with geological storage of carbon?
  2. Visit this National Academy of Sciences interactive Negative Emissions Technologies and Reliable Sequestration to learn about some other CCS technologies. Make notes of the pros (potential benefits) and cons (potential drawbacks/unknowns) of each different carbon reduction approach.
  3. Finally, what if CO2 could be marketed and recycled instead of just stored somewhere? Watch the following video, Made of Pollution, about making stuff out of captured and recycled CO2. Make notes of the pros and cons of capture and reuse technology. 

Made of Pollution: How CO2 is recycled to make your things. From DW Planet A


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



Imagine that you worked for a government, business or organization that was going to invest in a new technology or practice that would reduce CO2 in 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 evaluate the technologies and practices. What potential benefits would you like to see and what potential drawbacks would you like to avoid?

Optional Extensions

Want to find out more about CCS technologies? Check out these resources:

Capturing Carbon's Potential: These Companies Are Turning CO2 into Profits

World's Largest DAC Plant Now Pulling CO2 From Air in Iceland

more from Klaus Lackner at AZU An inventor of direct air capture technology shows how it works

30-sec audio Company converts CO2 into building material

5-min video Direct Air Capture: It's Literally Rocket Science!