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World Environment Day has been celebrated each year across the globe on 5 June since its inception in 1972 by the United Nations Environment Programme. It has raised public awareness about the state of our planet and is reminding citizens of this world that we all need to contribute to a sustainable planet. The official slogan for this year is ‘Raise your Voice Not the Sea Level’. What is happening to our sea level? What are the consequences on the environment? How can we chemists slow down this rise?
The ocean levels worldwide have been rising at an accelerated rate of about 3.5 millimeters per year. The massive ice sheets are melting so rapidly that in turn, they fail to be replaced by the formation of snow in winter. The combustion of fossil fuels as well as other anthropogenic activities are also contributing to global warming due to the release of large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. Computer simulations predicted a sea level rise of up to 2 meters by 2100, enough to submerge low-lying areas.
The buildup of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere and its effect on global climate are critical problems that will require innovative, global-scale science interventions.
Chemists and chemical engineers in action
The simplest way to prevent the Earth from warming up is to completely stop the emission of greenhouse gases. Obviously, zero carbon emission is quite difficult, if not impossible. In fact, despite its reputation, CO2 is no villain; it is considered a fundamental component of the biosphere that needs only to be managed. A considerable multidisciplinary scientific effort is being made to deal with climate change.
Capturing carbon dioxide and converting it into hydrocarbons and related feedstocks: this approach may be beneficial to creating a sustainable environment by declining the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. The first scientific challenge in the process of recycling CO2 is capturing it. Collecting CO2 from the air presents difficulties because CO2 concentration in the air is very low compared with point sources.
For now the most feasible technique is to focus on places where the CO2 stream is concentrated, using membranes to separate CO2 taking into account the pressure, temperature and concentration of gases.
To transform CO2 into something that can be used as fuel requires chemical reduction – the reaction that creates hydrocarbon feedstock from CO2 and water and other ingredients.
Based on the traditional photosynthesis process, this technique uses the sun, water and CO2 to produce clean fuels. Also known as the artificial leaf, artificial photosynthesis represents an ideal sustainable energy alternative to fossil fuels. However, in order to improve the efficiency for the conversion of CO2 to usable fuels, better catalysts and reaction conditions are still under investigation.
Watch the video below to learn more about Artificial Photosynthesis
Computational atmospheric chemistry is a cornerstone of climate change mitigation. Innovative cost-effective models are being used to study chemical reactions, predict the lifetimes and fates of atmospheric compounds that have an impact on humans and ecosystems.
“We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.” – Albert Einstein