What do we do with the CO2

Dwight Owen Schweitzer  4/21/12

On the 7th of June 1942, the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown was sunk shortly after the battle of Midway. What is remarkable is not the manner of her sinking but that she did not sink earlier as a result of a Japanese aerial attack, when a bomb went through her flight deck and exploded below in the compartment where thousands of gallons of highly flammable airplane fuel were stored and being used to refuel the planes that were there. The resultant explosion would have sunk a similar Japanese aircraft carrier but that fire on the Yorktown was put out in a matter of minutes saving the ship and her crew.

The reason for this was remarkably simple. The United States Navy, when building that ship in 1937, installed what to that time, was a revolutionary fire suppression system. It consisted of filling the hold with CO2, an inert, ‘greenhouse’ gas that is heavier than air and does not support combustion. We know that CO2 has two distinct and beneficial properties; it enables plants to undergo photosynthesis and in the process use CO2 to produce Oxygen, and it puts out fires in enclosed areas where it can displace the oxygen that is the fuel of virtually all but chemical fires. The significance of this is also two fold. Imagine if we replaced all of the water held in storage in all of the water mains and sprinkler systems, and kept under pressure in the same way we pipe natural gas into homes and buildings throughout the country.

There has been much speculation and some research on what is called CO2 sequestration; the liquefying of CO2 emissions and storing the resultant liquid in underground caverns and this approach might have some merit, however, I see no direct economic benefit accruing from it. In the meantime we have a fire suppression system throughout the country that not only contains millions of gallons of water sequestered in it, but it is also a poor first choice to put out most fires due to the resultant time it takes and the water damage that ensues.

What I am suggesting is that we use the thousands of miles of water pipe presently held hostage to a possible fire and systematically replace that increasingly needed water with liquefied carbon dioxide. The downside risk is that were it to leak in an enclosed space undetected, people would die of carbon dioxide poisoning; a risk easily prevented by even present ‘smoke detectors’ and the gas could be impregnated with a die or a noxious odor much as gasoline and natural gas is today. While I do not have the exact figures of the amount of liquefied CO2 that could be stored in the present water based system, the simple truth is that it is a far better, safer, and infinitely less environmentally damaging, method of putting out fires than the water sprinklers we have today.

The second benefit of CO2 should also be utilized in creating automated vertical farming systems that enable our CO2 emissions to be captured and piped from the same grid and made available to nurture agriculture which in turn would shorten growing seasons, increase yields and add much needed oxygen to an atmosphere that is losing it due to the decimation of the rainforests of the Amazon basin and Indonesia that are a significant source of converting atmospheric CO2 into Oxygen.

While we do not know the degree to which CO2 emissions would be redirected from going into the atmosphere, it is safe to suggest that the amounts would be meaningful, especially if these measures were adopted as a world standard. In the process, slowing if not reversing, the catastrophic effects of global warming’s raising ocean levels at increasingly alarming rates. with dire consequences to virtually every country in the world which is less than 200 feet above sea level. That is the amount the oceans of the world will rise at present rates in less than two centuries as the melting of the polar ice caps accelerate at a time when the population of the world will be growing when the land mass to support it will be shrinking.

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One thought on “What do we do with the CO2

  1. Dwight, the subject looked familiar, and the article is dated a few years back, so I’m not understanding whether this is a revision or a “bump” of the subject to elicit discussion – but I’ll take the opportunity to speak to the subject generally.

    The technical feasibility of CO2 sequestration and use for agriculture is beyond my expertise – but the current emphasis on STOPPING or SLOWING global climate change is puzzling. First, I’ve seen no convincing evidence that it can be done – and if it can, how soon it can be done, and for how long. It’s happening, clearly, and it has repercussions. Where’s the intelligent discussion of adaptation and amelioration? One of the briefly noted suggestions of [now former] New York City Mayor Bloomberg was to build a sea wall around New York. Others have suggested moving crops north to grow where the current weather trends are move suitable, or changing crops in affected areas. Surely, there are several opportunities for adaptation and amelioration – but where’s the political noise about that?

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