CO2 entering the oceans makes carbonic acid, which is good at dissolving calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is a main component of sea shells, including microscopic “sea shells” that are plankton cell walls. When plankton dies off, animals that eat plankton or that eat animals that eat plankton, will also die.
We’re killing the base of the ocean food chain. We are causing a mass extinction. We already have enough CO2 in the air to kill essentially all plankton. The oceans are close to the pH (acidity) where plankton dies; there are parts of the ocean now with no plankton.
How will countries that get most of their protein from fish, respond, when their major source of protein is gone? Would that increase terrorism and war?
Absorbing that acid, or the CO2 that forms acid in the water, before we kill plankton, will take enormous amounts of power. Some methods that are most likely to work, would use about as much as the world uses now in 10 years. Efficient types of nuclear reactor can produce that much power; no other power source that doesn’t pollute heavily, can do the job.
We can get off coal and oil and natural gas, and even generate power for undoing ocean acidification.
But solar and wind energy will only contribute. Nothing based on solar or wind energy can supply power all the time, unless we add extremely expensive (and environmentally challenging) energy storage systems capable of providing energy through a month of bad weather (low sun, low wind).
Tidal and wave energy are much more steady, and much more expensive and difficult to install; so difficult we are still just beginning to have large installations.
Wind energy is so diffuse, and so variable, that building windmills to power the country would be enormously expensive; so use wind power only in those few areas where it really makes sense. Even in “windy” areas, the average actual power generated is only about 1/3 the rated capacity of a wind farm.
Solar and wind are intermittent, and there is no way around that. Energy storage systems are very expensive, and not environmentally friendly; not at the scale we would need to truly eliminate use of coal and natural gas. How much storage do you need for the worst stretch of windless overcast days your city has had in last 100 years, or last 5 years? That’s how much storage you need, if you’re going to eliminate fossil fuel use.
People saying “solar is cheap” aren’t including the cost of the coal plant providing “base load power” when the solar cells aren’t generating. (And, solar power is getting less expensive, rapidly, for when the sun is shining; just don’t try providing 100% all-the-time power with solar.)
Light Water Reactors — the type of nuclear reactor the coal and oil industries told USA Congress to pick, so it wouldn’t ruin the fossil fuel industries — is so complex it’s too expensive, and TEPCO-style inept management can ruin LWR.
There are other types of nuclear reactor, with none of the problems LWR has. No water, so no high pressures (no way to spew radioactive material). No water, so no loss of coolant accidents. Stable temperature (no getting hot enough to melt reactor materials, even with loss of power). Over 99% fuel use (vs LWR about 3%), so no long-term radioactive waste.
Molten Salt Reactors such as LFTR can be built rapidly in factories (vs LWR built mostly by hand on-site), and deployed wherever power is needed. MSR can even be deployed for disaster relief, on trucks. We can build enough, in a few years if we committed to doing it, to power the world and to power reducing global atmospheric CO2.
MSR high heat can make vehicle fuel out of CO2 and water, and high temperatures from MSR can be used to desalinate water more efficiently. MSR can even produce heat and electricity needed to undo ocean acidification.
We’ll of course start by making gasoline and diesel out of captured CO2 and water; we know how to do that, it just takes heat to split water and CO2, which MSR generates. We’ll use what gasoline we need, and store more in oil fields; but that won’t use enough CO2. We’ll have to store CO2 in other ways too.
Many people have heard of pumping CO2 under a porous rock, that is located under a solid rock that will keep the CO2 in place for a long time, hopefully not finding cracks and escaping to the atmosphere (it would suffocate any life in the area).
We are developing efficient ways of permanently storing CO2, as a mineral. One way is use rocks that absorb it, such as basalt. We can either inject CO2 under large basalt formations, or spread ground rock throughout the oceans. There are demonstration projects already, that pump CO2 under large solid shelves of basalt; the basalt will absorb it chemically, storing it as the mineral calcite; the mineral does not have to be monitored since it is chemically and physically stable. This is faster when there is water present, the CO2 and water form acid that leaches elements like calcium and magnesium for making calcite; but slower reactions allow the CO2 to spread throughout more rock instead of making calcite near the injection site blocking CO2 injection.
CO2 can react with other calcium and magnesium silicates in rocks to form carbonates. Peridotite is another common rock that can make a mineral from CO2. Two-thirds of the rocks on Earth are basaltic, and most of the ocean floor is basalt. One good article covering this is CarbFix CO2 Storage Project.
We can use ground basalt to permanently store CO2, converting it to a mineral.
Another method might be to spread ground rock through the oceans, in small enough amounts we don’t bury ocean animals underneath it. The CO2 gets captured in the rock and sinks permanently to the bottom of the ocean.
We can use salt + water + CO2 to make baking soda, CO2 + H2O + NaCl > NaHCO3 + H2 + Cl2, leaving baking soda plus hydrogen plus chlorine. We can’t possibly use that much baking soda, but it could be stored permanently underground, it is a chemically stable crystalline solid. We would also stop mining baking soda, saving energy and reducing pollution. We’ll find something to use the chlorine for.
There are places such as Iceland with huge basalt formations, but these are often not near where there is a lot of CO2 generated. We can either get good at removing CO2 from the air, or get good at bringing rock to where concentrated CO2 is generated, especially at coal power plants. (And, Molten Salt Reactors could be designed to replace the coal heat source, connecting to the existing generator and distribution equipment.)
We will no doubt find better ways of storing CO2, as engineers get past the “takes too much energy” thinking; obviously we can never burn enough coal to undo the damage of burning coal, and solar isn’t yet catching up to new coal plants being built.
Modern safe efficient nuclear power plants can provide power for the world and for undoing ocean acidification.
We can do it.