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?
  • Will 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. 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.

Artificial trees are an example of a technology being 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 anyway?
    • 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 that could actually help to reduce atmospheric CO2? What do you think?

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

  1. 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?
  2. To find out, read about various carbon reduction strategies in the NovaScienceNow interactive Where Do We Put the Carbon.
  3. As you go through the interactive, make note of the pros (potential benefits) and cons (potential drawbacks/unknowns) of each different carbon reduction approach.


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.


Imagine that you worked for a government, business or organization that was going to invest in a new technology or practice 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 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 or practice. Good luck!