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A new spin on windmills

Windmills could someday reduce net global carbon dioxide emissions to zero, says Klaus Lackner of Columbia University. But these aren’t the sort of windmills that generate electricity. Instead, they scrub carbon dioxide from the air passing through them — much like a conventional smokestack scrubber.

In his talk “The future of fossil fuels” (A2.00003), Lackner claimed that 250,000 such windmills could eliminate all of mankind’s carbon dioxide emissions — at a cost equivilent of boosting the price of gasoline by 25 cents per gallon.

The ability to remove carbon from the air is essential, says Lackner, because 50% of all carbon emissions come from cars, airplanes and other small sources. It would be very difficult to collect carbon dioxide from such sources and tough to convert them to run on carbon free fuels.

Lackner is currently working with a company in Arizona to develop the technology, and was hesitant to provide further details. He did show a sketch of the windmill and it wasn’t a pretty sight — picture a giant ventilation grating with fins sitting on top of a pole. “Not in my backyard”, do I hear?

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