This week's issue of The Economist reports on an interesting scheme proposed by Alfred Y. Wong, professor of physics and director of the Plasma Physics Laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles, to rid the Earth of carbon dioxide emissions. Wong posits that a conveyor built in the Arctic could take advantage of the Earth's magnetic field to expel emissions into outer space.
The Antarctic and the Arctic are the only two sites on the planet above which the sky opens up to space. There, particles from the sun that get through and cross the atmosphere could be harnessed for their gigawatts of power to lower the concentration of greenhouse gases by expelling them.While seemingly far-fetched, Wong's idea is grounded in two central facts: for one thing, a certain number of carbon dioxide molecules invariably form negatively charged ions when they pair up with loose electrons in the atmosphere and, secondly, a constant vertical electrical field that makes negatively charged ions drift upward exists all over the planet. This process, though initially slow, picks up after a few days when the ions reach an altitude of about 125 km. At this level, the air is so rarefied (in other words, diffusion primarily dictates the movement of particles) that ions are able to freely move about and eventually sail along the Earth's magnetic field into outer space.
With that as his basis, Wong believes it should be possible to artificially coax carbon dioxide molecules into leaving the planet's atmosphere in larger numbers. He proposes doing this by first ionizing more carbon dioxide molecules (one idea is to zap dust in the sky with lasers to release more electrons) and then guiding the resultant carbon dioxide ions to the appropriate altitude from which they could then drift into space through a series of natural processes.
Though still in its infancy, Wong has already determined that the energy needs of his project, even if met by fossil-fuel powered electricity, would result in less carbon dioxide being put into the atmosphere than shipped out.
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