May 21, 2019 - Energy & Environment

New methane capture method could reduce global warming by one-sixth

Methane gas renewable energy plant

Renewable energy plant from methane gas. Photo: Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Emerging tech to suck CO2 from the air is getting lots of buzz and cash, but a new paper in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Sustainability proposes a method for atmospheric capture of methane to alleviate warming and buy more time to tackle the bigger CO2 problem.

Why it matters: Methane — a greenhouse gas originating from agriculture, natural gas production, and elsewhere — is emitted in smaller quantities than CO2 but is far more potent at trapping heat on a pound-for-pound basis in the near-term.

What they're saying: "The technique could restore the concentration of methane to levels found before the Industrial Revolution, and in doing so, reduce global warming by one-sixth," the authors write in a separate piece at The Conversation.

How it works: They propose using zeolites — which are porous crystalline structures made from aluminum, silicon and oxygen — that can trap methane.

  • It would arrive via large volumes of air forced into chambers via arrays of electric fans (which would be powered by renewables).

The intrigue: The system they envision would ultimately transform the methane into less-potent CO2, providing some breathing room given methane's potent short-term warming effects.

  • "Methane removal would buy us considerable time to address the [larger] problem of carbon dioxide emissions," Stanford's Rob Jackson, the paper's lead author, tells MIT Technology Review.
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