Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group Ltd. launched the Virgin Earth challenge on February 9, 2007 at a press conference in London with former Vice-President Al Gore, recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, at his side.
The announcement was made a week after the IPCC, United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported global warming is 90% likely to be caused by humans, and temperatures are predicted to rise by 1.1 to 6.4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
A 1.1 to 6.4 degree rise in Celsius certainly doesn't seem like much until you take into consideration the fact the direct correlation between rising temperatures and increased sea levels. The 1.1 to 6.4 rise in temperature equates to a 7 to 23 inch rise in sea level.
The Virgin Earth Challenge will:
"award $25 million to the individual or group who are able to demonstrate a commercially viable design which will result in the net removal of anthropogenic, atmospheric greenhouse gases each year for at least ten years without countervailing harmful effects. This removal must have long term effects and contribute materially to the stability of the Earth's climate."
Coming up with a commercially viable design resulting in removal of greenhouse gases for at least 10 years, without harmful effects, while also contributing to the stability of the Earth's climate is not the type of solution you come up with over coffee and Danish while reading your Sunday paper.
Is the problem so complex that it will it take years and years for groups of engineers working together on designs, blueprints, scale models and prototypes to come up with a viable solution?
The U.S. produces 25% of CO2 pollution from fossil-fuel burning, an incredible percentage considering the U.S. only comprises 4% of the world's population.
The largest source of CO2 pollution in the U.S. is coal-burning power plants producing 2.5 billion tons each year. Automobiles producing 1.5 billion tons of CO2 each year are the second largest source.
Companies that make dry ice (frozen C02) get paid by their customers. What happens to the market if tons and tons of dry ice are produced from the air and/or ocean? The price of dry ice drops to nearly zero and we still need someone to pay for the cost of extracting the CO2 from the air and/or water.
Yes, we can make dry ice out of thin air and reduce Global Warming, but who is going to pay for it?
Once we have the dry ice we could ship it to the Polar Bears in Alaska and the Penguins at the South Pole. They'll appreciate it because it will keep their ice from melting leaving them with no place to go. Then all that's left is to figure out a way to pay for it because no matter how much the Polar Bears and Penguins appreciate it, they can't pay for it.
If making dry ice and shipping it to Polar Bears and Penguins proves to be too expensive we could always run with our cheaper version.
We could covert carbon dioxide to liquid CO2. We'll drill holes in the glaciers and fill the holes with liquid CO2. That will keep the ice from melting, and the glaciers will keep the liquid CO2 out of the atmosphere. But, we have to hurry on this idea before the ice melts!
Our third suggestion is to find out where they are going to bury all the waste from the nuclear power they're going to be generating and bury the CO2 in the same place.
Unfortunately, the operative words in the contest are "commercially viable" which means you can make money on the idea. Apparently we can't do anything about Global Warming unless we can make money on it. What are we going to do when there's no earth left to make money on?
The problem with carbon dioxide is its chemical breakdown. It is a colorless gas comprised of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. It will not become a liquid unless pressure exceeds 5.1 atm's. At temperatures below -78 degrees Celsius, carbon dioxide turns directly into a white solid called dry ice.
Dry ice is so cold it can cause frostbite if gloves are not used when handling and storage is a problem due to the fact the dry ice continues to produce carbon dioxide gas.
Since CO2 can go from gas to solid without first becoming a liquid, understanding the findings of Robert Boyle and Jacques Alexander Charles will probably be the real key to finding a solution to global warming.
Although their discoveries were approximately 100 years apart, Robert Boyle, an English scientist, and Jacques Alexandre Charles, a French physicist, made important contributions to chemistry which are now considered gas laws.
If a gas is held at a constant temperature, the volume is inversely proportional to the pressure. Compressing a gas to half of its initial volume doubles its pressure.
If a gas is held at a constant pressure, the volume is directly proportional to the absolute temperature. Heating a gas to double its original temperature doubles its volume.
Source: Mircrosoft Encarta
Global Warming may be a complicated subject, but the solution can easily be broken down into two parts:
- Reduce the amount of carbon dioxide, CO2, going into the atmosphere.
- Come up with ways and means to capture CO2 that is already in the atmosphere.
Carbon sequestration (capturing carbon dioxide before it is emitted to the atmosphere}, is a program the Office of Fossil Energy, U.S. Department of Energy has been working on during the past years with the goal of capturing 90% of CO2, with a 99% storage permanence, at less than a 10% increase in the cost of energy services by 2012.
Could it be own Department of Energy is well on their way towards collecting the grand prize of $25 million dollars offered by Sir Richard Branson? Their report on the subject would lead the reader to believe they have all their ducks in a row.
Looks like the DOE is going to have some competition as a copy of this article is being sent to Sir Richard Branson as our entry into the $25 million dollar sweepstakes.