Lackner helped successfully strip carbon dioxide pollution directly from ambient air in a pioneering 2007 demonstration. The technology could help ease the climate change risks of a growing global energy economy. The latest generation prototypes of his "artificial trees" could sponge up CO2 from greenhouse gas emissions for commercial reuse, such as the production of synthetic fuels. The captured carbon could also be sequestered underground.
Fossil fuel-use will increase as the developing world improves its standard of living, said Lackner, interviewed recently in Wisconsin at the Comer Conference on abrupt climate change.
Global Research Technologies is now Kilimanjaro Energy, headquartered in New York City. Lackner co-founded GRT and remains an advisor and director for Kilimanjaro.
Recently ARCH Venture Partners led a round of venture financing for Kilimanjaro to develop advanced CO2-capture prototypes, such as Lackner’s “humidity swing” — a device which sponges CO2 from the air using a renewable sorbent.
Some environmentalists have portrayed the idea of mopping up carbon pollution from the air as reactionary, justifying the continued use of fossil fuels instead of the search for alternative energy sources.
"Air capture is an important ingredient," Lackner said. "Whether you could conceivably do without it someday is another question.”
But air capture on a large scale could help close the carbon cycle. This would ease the energy economy onto a more sustainable path, said Lackner, a geophysicist at Columbia University.