SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who is Time Magazine’s current Person of the Year, are often accused of neglecting problems on Earth in favor of running its private space program. The claim is unfair on many levels. Musk also runs an electric car company. Now, the space contractor has announced a new initiative on Twitter that could prove that flying in space can also benefit Earth.
“SpaceX is launching a program to take CO2 out of the atmosphere and turn it into rocket fuel. If you’re interested, get involved,” he tweeted.
Man-made climate change, as a result of greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, is an obsession for many in both the government and the media. Musk’s proposal has interesting implications for this question and claims that he wants to leave Earth to go live on Mars. The project will not only help mitigate climate change on Earth, but will play a key role in Musk’s desire to settle on Mars.
Making rocket fuel with CO2 is the easy part of the proposal. A century-old process invented by Nobel Prize-winning chemist Paul Sabatier combines hydrogen and carbon dioxide with a catalyst to create methane and water. The Musk rocket, developed by SpaceX in Boca Chica, Texas, uses engines that burn liquid methane and liquid oxygen. NASA uses the SubTear system to create water for the crew on the International Space Station (ISS). Methane is extracted from the ISS.
The first part of Musk’s plan to get CO2 out of the atmosphere is likely to be more challenging. The idea that the capture of carbon from the air would reduce Earth’s greenhouse gases and thus mitigate climate change is controversial. One such project is being carried out in Iceland by a company called ClimeWorks, as reported by TechCrunch. The company has so far spent between $600 and $800 on removing a ton of carbon dioxide, which is considered prohibitively expensive. Climeworks wants to reduce the cost to between $100 and $200 per year. Tons (also known as Tonnes) to make the project more economically viable.
Another form of carbon capture involves the separation of CO2 directly from power plants. In fact, there is a pilot plant of Net Power in La Porte, Texas, a few hours drive from Boca Chica. It burns natural gas, but saves and stores CO2 emissions. Can Musk buy what he needs from a CO2 NET system or similar? Maybe, but once an environmentalist, Musk may be reluctant to send gas to Boca Chica by diesel-powered tanker truck. Will Tesla be interested in developing an electrically powered tanker?
In any case, Musk is interested in developing both carbon capture from the air and Sabbathier technologies for his planned Mars settlement. The idea is to capture hydrogen from CO2, water ice from the Martian atmosphere and then turn them into rocket fuel for spacecraft traveling from the red planet back to Earth.
Musk has funded the $ 100 million X award to encourage the development of carbon capture technologies, noting that “to win the grand prize, teams must have a working one on a scale of at least 1,000 tons removed per year.” The solution should be to demonstrate; model their costs on a scale of 1 million tonnes per year; and show the way to achieve the size of gigatons per year in the future. ”
If and when a direct air entrapment solution is obtained, a win-win result is obtained. Human civilization will have at its disposal one or more technologies that will go a long way towards solving the climate crisis. Musk will have a source of CO2 to make its own rocket fuel and will continue to pursue its magnificent design to build a Mars settlement, not to mention getting humans back to the Moon and many other targets.
A rocket whose engines burn liquid methane and liquid oxygen would produce water and CO2 in its exhaust. But a world that has technology that can capture carbon from the atmosphere is likely to be more than capable of dealing with the situation.
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has denounced carbon capture as the “wrong solution.” But the delicious irony is that while new green dealers plan to tackle climate change linked to the destruction of fossil fuels, billionaire capitalists like Musk are developing solutions that don’t involve such a violent economic disaster. Kasturi and his ilk are more likely to succeed where politicians and activists fail. Kasturi has promised to save Earth and go to Mars.