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Post-Pandemic Scenarios – XLIV – Climate 2

Schematics of the attempt to create a bacteria that uses CO2 for its metabolism. Currently bacteria (as multicellular living beings like ourselves) generate CO2 as metabolic waste. Bio-engineers are “re-programming” the bacterial DNA to support the bacteria metabolism using -consuming- CO2. The third step aims at creating a bacteria that uses CO2 and does not generate CO2 as metabolic waste. Image credit: Gleizer et al.

Technologies for a Green Environment

The pandemic hit the economy worldwide, possibly even more, in economic terms, in developed Countries. The post-pandemic recovery will be steered by political decision to focus on addressing some crucial -long term- issues, among these the climate change. The huge amount of money (at debt) poured into the recovery stimulus will influence research, processes and culture towards sustainability, circular economy and green.

Climate is dependent, as addressed in the previous post of this series, on many factors and we can control only a few of them. Yet, there is consensus on the fact that anthropic activity has increased the CO2 -and more generally greenhouse gases emission. In turns this contribute to the warming of the planet activating a self sustaining spiral towards warmer and warmer average temperature:

  • the more CO2 (and greenhouse gas) emissions the less heat can dissipate to the outer space making the planet warmer;
  • the warmer the planet the warmer the oceans. This decreases their capacity to adsorb CO2 (the cooler the water temperature the more CO2 can be dissolved in the water). Notice, however, that the more CO2 in the oceans the more acidic they become and this affects -mostly negatively- the ambient of many species;
  • the warmer the planet the more ice is melting and the more glaciers are shrinking. This in turns decreases the quantity of light reflected and further increases the adsorption of sunlight energy resulting in a further increase of temperature.

As pointed out in the FTI’s report, the focus on climate change will steer investment to reduce the anthropic impact by both decreasing green gases emission and developing technology to adsorb and dispose of CO2.

There are a number of technologies (already in use) to capture CO2 generated by industrial processes. These technologies transform CO2 (at the expense of energy) into other substances, like fertilisers, concrete, fuel that can be used in a variety of areas. Notice the “at the expense of energy”: we can have a net gain only if energy is tapped from clean renewable sources, otherwise more CO2 will be emitted in the process of producing the power to be used in CO2 transformation…

At the same time. as noted in the report, new technologies are being pursued, like the genetic modification of bacteria (escherichia coli) to produce enzymes that convert CO2 into harmless bicarbonate.

Researchers are looking forward to the possibility of re-engineering the metabolism of bacteria (E. coli is the usual target) in such a way that it can use CO2 as bases for its metabolism. The CO2 would become fixed into bacteria -alas transformed into different molecules- and the bacterias could be used as fuel…. Amazing!

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.