Pollution, billions of tons of CO2 buried at sea for centuries

Pollution, billions of tons of CO2 buried at sea for centuries


Capturing and burying carbon is one of the most promising ways to slow the pace of climate change. Researchers at the University of Texas and ExxonMobil have found a way to accelerate the formation of crystalline structures called hydrates that can store billions of tons of carbon for centuries: adding magnesium to the reaction. In this way, in fact, it was possible to reduce the waiting time for the formation of hydrates by 3,000 times, taking it from hours or even days to a few minutes.

"I consider carbon capture as insurance for the planet, ”said Vaibhav Bahadur, an associate professor in the Walker Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Cockrell School of Engineering and lead author of a new paper on research in ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering. "It is no longer enough to be carbon neutral, we must be carbon negative to undo the damage that has been done to the environment in recent decades".

These structures, known as hydrates, are formed when carbon dioxide is mixed with high pressure and low temperature water. The water molecules reorient themselves and act as cages that trap the CO2 molecules. The process begins very slowly, however, but the addition of magnesium has resulted in the fastest hydrate formation rate ever documented.

Understanding how to reduce carbon in the atmosphere is as big a problem as yours is. presence in the atmosphere at this time. Yet, says Bahadur, there are only a few research groups in the world looking at CO2 hydrates as a potential carbon storage option. Bahadur has been working on hydrate research since he joined UT Austin in 2013. This project is part of a research partnership between ExxonMobil and the UT Austin Energy Institute.

Researchers and ExxonMobil have filed a patent application to commercialize their discovery. Next, they plan to address efficiency issues - by increasing the amount of CO2 that is converted to hydrates during the reaction - and by establishing a continuous production of hydrates.

Austin saw 103 days of unsafe levels of air pollution in 2020, the third worst city in state

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The Austin area ranked as the third-worst Texas metro area for air pollution with 103 days of unsafe pollution levels last year, according to a report issued Tuesday by the Environment Texas Research and Policy Center, Frontier Group and TexPIRG Education Fund.

The report says the Austin area had 22 days of elevated ozone levels and 84 days of elevated small particulate matter last year. Nearly 1 in 3 days, Austinites experienced unsafe levels of air pollution in 2020.

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Exposure to these pollutants has been linked to several health issues, such as an increased risk for cancers and premature death.

“Even very low levels of air pollution can still cause respiratory harm, harm to the cardiovascular system (and) heart attacks,” Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas, told the American-Statesman.  

The El Paso area recorded 129 days of elevated pollution, the most in Texas, followed by the Brownsville area, with 126 days. 

While 2020 briefly saw cleaner air quality as the pandemic reduced the need for transportation, which contributes to nearly half of air pollution in Texas, summer wildfires and Austin construction increased air pollution later in the year. 

However, Austin air quality has improved since the early 2010s, when the city was dangerously close to exceeding federal limits on ozone pollution, Metzger said. But Austin is still close to exceeding the limits, he said.

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Additionally, Metzger said one of Austin’s five air pollution monitors was not functioning for most of 2020, indicating an undercount of days with unsafe pollution levels.

“The last several years, we've just been really close to the line of failing the EPA standards, which as we talked about before, are pretty weak,” Metzger said. “And (Austin is) certainly nowhere close to what we need to do to be productive in human health.”

Austin also sees pollution from coal-fired power plants in East Texas and chemical refineries on the Gulf Coast.

“A lot of air pollution blows into Austin, so we're kind of hit from all angles from different sources,” Metzger said. “Everything from wildfires to the Sahara dust to agricultural burning in Mexico.”

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Since air pollution can travel easily across states and even countries, Metzger said it is more important for federal and state governments to introduce and enforce environmental guidelines. City leaders can also do their part, he said.

Metzger said the potential expansion of Interstate 35 could worsen air pollution levels through construction and the potential to add more gasoline-powered cars to Austin roads. Metzger said Austin officials are looking at alternate options to the expansion that will be less harmful to the environment.

The report recommended a swift transition to electric vehicles and tighter air pollution standards in line with scientifically recommended levels.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Austin saw 103 days of unsafe levels of air pollution in 2020, the third worst city in state